Zion Church of the City of Baltimore

Those buried at Zion:

The Mysteries of Zion’s Early Burial Grounds

By Shelley Arnold

I am always ready for a good puzzle or adventure, if fact I need them on a regular basis.  This met the criteria for both.   Several months ago, I was approached by the President of the German Society of Maryland, Jim Schuab, and asked if three Patriots of the War of 1812 were buried at Zion Church of the City of Baltimore.  Zion founded in 1755 and located at 140-146 N. Gay Street in the center of the city of Baltimore does have a cemetery located on the side of the church.  That cemetery, however, holds only a few souls, the majority being those of several pastors of Zion.  Those buried at Zion include John Sigfried Gerock, Rosina his wife, Sigfried Henry his son, Julius K. Hofmann, Adele his wife, Nicolaus Kurtz, Johann Daniel Kurtz, Dr. Hiltgunt Zassenhaus.  The tombs here were rebuilt in 1932. Several others have been recently interred after the building of a columbarium or wall for their ashes.  The popular genealogy site, ‘Find A Grave’ lists 23 persons buried at Zion.  Those listed above are the only ones buried at today’s Zion church.  

I could not find the remains of the soldiers, Joseph S. Crane, Johann Somerlag, and Isaac Wolf(e), thus beginning my search and research on the Cemeteries of Zion Church of the City of Baltimore.  

Having done a good deal of research on churches and cemeteries in Maryland, I knew that there were several Zion churches in the Baltimore area, such as Zion Lutheran in Lauraville, Zion Reformed in Baltimore, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church of Christ at Golden Ring and others.   I began going through the records at Zion.  I did not find the soldiers at that time, but what I did find was astounding.  Zion Church of the City of Baltimore didn’t have one large cemetery, they had three!  

A very interesting book, ‘The Very Quiet Baltimoreans’ written by Jane Bromley Wilson, led me to continue my search.  In her book she wrote, ‘German Lutheran Cemetery at Zion Church, This tiny churchyard cemetery is what remains of one which extended as far as where City Hall now stands then ‘East to a Mr. Solomon’s lot’ and south to Gay Street, leaving ‘an avenue of an entrance from Gay to the Church’. Originally, Zion Lutheran, as it is popularly called, had two graveyards, one in the eastern part of town and one in the western, in addition to the downtown location’

Zion originally known as the German Lutheran Congregation or the High German Lutheran Congregation in Baltimore Town, was located at Fish (now Saratoga) and Gay*see map below.  In reviewing old land documents and maps it was confirmed that there was indeed an early burial ground.  The land was provided by a gentleman named Lawson who indicated that the ground could only be used as a church for the German Congregation and a burial ground for the German element.   The deed was signed on May 27, 1771.  This specific purpose land deed could only be reversed or remedied by an Act of the Legislature, which was done on December 29, 1811, Chapter 136.  The cemetery at Fish Street was operated from 1777 until it was sold somewhere between 1808 and 1810.  

The church at Fish and Gay was also sold around this time.  This deed between the Trustees of the German Lutheran Church and William Carmen was originally executed in 1808 and the sale was for $8,500. It included the land on the west side of Jones Falls belonging to the German Lutheran Congregation…it begins on the South side of Fish Street and 123 ½ feet westerly formed by the southside of Fish Street, the West side of Gay to Lot #5, which was sold to John McKim, Jr….this included the brick church building on the lot between McKims’ and that sold to Frederick Leypold.  The Carman lots were #3 and #4.   See map/plat.  Further documentation is a notation in the financial information of the 1758-1814 Ziongemeinde that the church received $8600 from a sale of the property.  Other pieces of property in the same area were sold to J. Kim and Leypold.   There are indications that the first church was sold to the African Bethel church, which still exists today on Druid Hill Avenue.

Further proof of a cemetery was found on the 1801 Warner and Hanna Map (see photo).   It was known as the German Lutheran Cemetery.  If you pay close attention, there were several cemeteries in the immediate area.  I believe they belonged to the First Presbyterian, St. John’s Catholic and St. Paul’s Cemetery.  I found no listing of those interred in Zion’s Fish Street cemetery, but did find another cemetery belonging to Zion  which appears to have been the location of re-interment.   A Baltimore Sunpaper article dated Friday July 6, 1877 - the Fish Street property and tax liability shows that the cemetery closed and the remains moved, with the exception of the pastors interred there, ‘The trustees of Zion Independent German Church, Rev. Mr. Scheib pastor, filed an appeal in the City Court yesterday against the assessment of ground about the church on North Gay Street.  One parcel of the ground is assessed for about $12,000 and another parcel for $100.  The trustees claim that the last has been exempt from taxation since 1771, it having been used for purposes of a burial ground; that although nearly all the remains have been removed, with the headstones and tablets, yet the bodies of two former pastors of the church lie buried in the last and space is reserved for similar burials in the case of the death of any other pastor.  They claim entire exemption from assessment.’  Pastor Scheib was successful.

There are indications that the Gay Street cemetery remains were moved, the most concrete evidence is that Zion purchased land at Columbia Avenue (now Washington Boulevard) in 1808 (around the time that the Gay Street location was sold).  It was situated at Columbia/Parkin and Nanticoke Streets, intersected by Cross Street in Southwest Baltimore ‘Pigtown’.  It was used for the sole purpose of burial of members of Zion for a small fee.  It was sold by Frederick Brentle to the High German Lutheran Church[1].  In order to comply, the plot owners had to remain members of the church and contribute a minimum of $2.00 per year.

The notice of sale of the Columbia Street cemetery appeared in the December 3, 1873 and December 16, 1873 papers and listed all original owners.  It stated in this notice that the grounds had not been used for burials for thirty years (1843). Of the list of  approximately 160 names, only five families claimed family members to move to other locations…Hoen, Wegner, Kleibecker, Boltman, Linez (lots 8, 9, 17, 18, 28, and 57).  All others were moved to Loudon Park through a special arrangement.

It was here, at the Broadway location,  I found the first Patriot, I. Hy Wolf.  The name fit and with further research I found that he was listed on Zion’s death Register[2], listing his death as October 15, 1814, meaning he died in service.  More information on Isaac Wolf:  Isaac Woolf (Wolf) 27th Regiment (Long's) in Capt. James McConkey's Comp of Infantry. Commencement of service August 19, 1814, expiration of service Oct. 15, 1814. Dead Oct. 15, 1814. Term served 1 month 28 days. Presumably died from wounds at Battle of North Point.[3] Isaac Wolf could have, and probably was buried  at Zion Columbia Street.

You can imagine my surprise when further research led me to a third cemetery.  The ‘Very Quiet Baltimoreans’ comments about one on the west side and one on the east, led me here.   Also writing to one of the contributor’s at Find A Grave, became irate when I told her they were NOT buried at Zion, irate and adamant that they may not be next to your church, but they were buried at Zion.  This person lived on the East side of town, near Broadway.  The third cemetery was located on Broadway near Monument.  I was unable to find the sale papers, but did find notification in the Baltimore Sunpaper that it was sold in 1857.  The notice indicated that it was previously a burial ground.  The administration of the removal and re-interments was assigned to Jacob Peter.[4]  Finding a map which shows the cemetery at Broadway helped clarify a few issues.  There were actually three cemeteries in the area of Johns Hopkins.  The Zion cemetery was located at Monument and Broadway and there were two others on the opposite side of the hospital, that of St. Patricks and the Methodist Cemetery.  They were moved in 1934 with the remains of the Catholic cemetery being moved to Holy Cross cemetery and those of the Methodist cemetery being moved to Hiss Methodist at 8700 Harford Rd.[5]

Finding this information helped me find Patriot Joseph S. Crane.  His obituary from the Baltimore Sunpaper secured the date and while researching at the Baltimore County Genealogical Society, I found a death record for Joseph Crane, which stated he was 54 years old at the time of his death.  He died on 4-6-1839 and is buried at the Methodist Protestant Cemetery.[6]  Another reference, actually two, led me to Zion and the small Broadway cemetery[7].  An article in the Sunpaper shows that Mr. Crane dying of consumption in Baltimore on 4/6/1839 and being buried “in a small cemetery near the present Johns Hopkins Medical Center”.  This could be the Methodist cemetery if I depend on the previous clue, but could also be Zion.[8] Sealing the deal, however, was further research at Zion which led me to the marriage record of Mr. Crane to Katherine Sopp on October 27, 1808.  They were married by Reverend Kurtz.   With respects to Mr. Crane’s military record I found him to be a member of the 1st Rifle Battalion out of Baltimore and a member of the Union Yagers.  His captain was Dominic Bader.  

As for our last Patriot, Johan Somerlag (1787-1834), I was unable to find a death record, nor any service records.  There was also no connection on any census or pension records.  While at the Baltimore County Genealogical Society I did find him on the Wilkens interments…Mr. Somerlag, 47 years old, death caused by exposure (stated heat and cold water), buried in the German Lutheran Cemetery in the week ending July 28, 1834.  This would lead me to believe he was buried at the Broadway German Lutheran Cemetery, which did belong to Zion 

So it would appear that all three Patriots were buried at Zion.  My theory is that the Gay Street bodies were moved to the other two cemeteries and upon the sale and closure of the Broadway cemetery those graves were moved to the Columbia Avenue cemetery.  Upon the sale of the Columbia Avenue cemetery, all graves, with the exception of families Ewalt, Buckley, Scherr, Dansing and Richter, choosing to move their own, were removed to Loudon Park cemetery. 

Keep in mind, when doing any genealogical research prior to the 20th century and in this case the 19th century, many of the burial grounds were moved (and some even covered over) in the name of progress.  Several cemeteries are located on O’Donnell Street (then Trapp) including Mt. Carmel and Trinity Lutheran, which both had bodies moved for I95.  St. Alphonsus had a cemetery, sold to the city and bodies moved to Most Holy Redeemer.  The list is long and includes Holy Cross, Old Cathedral, St. James, St. John’s , Fifth German Reformed, St. Patrick’s, St. Peter’s Kirkyard and finding where the bodies were moved can be very time consuming.  This list is only the tip of the iceberg.  I have researched several (including those on O’Donnell) and have listings of the names moved on this site.  

[1] WG No 100, Folio 235.

[2] Isaac Wolf; Abraham Wolf, 55 and Zion German Church Burial Register “1814 Isaac Wolf 15 Oct, 23 Jahr (years)

[3] (NARA) Court Administration – Book 5, folio 269

[4] Liber ED, No 135, Folio 179; Bouldin Deed, ED, No 138, Folio 151, also 1857.

[5] [Sunpaper, Dec. 9, 1934, ‘Restless Sleep of Dead Here Will be Broken in Upon Again’]

[6] WIR:  Wilkens interments and HIS-Hollowahs Sunpaper Index.

[7] [Sunpaper Tuesday, May 19, 1857].  

[8] “Early Baltimore City Burial Ground and Their Interment Records 1834-40” compiled by William N Wilkins, 1945, Maryland Historical Society, MF227W68