We visited Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow twice as we loved it so much and the second time we took in Irvington which is clearly named for Washington Irving, who is the most famous and favourite son of the area.
We took the train from Grand Central Station and it’s a lovely ride as it follows the Hudson River through the Hudson Valley. There are bridges galore and I enjoyed seeing this low bridge which was being opened, through the span of the high bridge.
There is also the rather remarkable Tappan Zee Bridge, which replaces an older Tappan Zee Bridge. It is a beautiful twin cable-stayed bridge and we saw a photograph where it was green – perhaps for St Patrick’s Day?
Irvington, Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow are all villages in Westchester County, New York.
We visited Tarrytown first and were blown away by the quaint attractiveness of the main street – we were forty minutes from New York in time, but so far away in terms of atmosphere and scenery. It’s like being on a movie set and, as we wandered about, we came across large estates with many grand houses. This is an affluent community and one which is inextricably tied into the Washington Irving story.
I later read that Forbes Magazine voted Tarrytown in the top 10 prettiest towns in America. I’m not surprised. These are a couple of houses that are situated along the main road to Sleepy Hollow. So gorgeous.
I think I see some Dutch influences in this one.
The public spaces are beautiful and very well groomed. This clock is in Sleepy Hollow.
And a bit of public art, depicting, surprise, surprise, a headless horseman! It’s a bit hard to see because of the shadows, but if you squint you’ll see.
The legend of Sleepy Hollow begins with the ride of the headless horseman through this cemetery (I think, I’ve now got the book to re-read as it’s possibly fifty years since I last read it!).
Apparently Halloween is very big here!
We found Washington Irvings grave in the Irving family plot. I was pleased to note the simplicity.
Even the noticeboards denoting the village boundaries are beautifully wrought!
There is a sign behind the main board, which mentions someone called Andre who was captured there. I needed to know more! It seems that a suspicious character was seen lurking about and was apprehended. He turned out to be Major John Andre, a British spy and co-conspirator of Benedict Arnold. He had the defence plans for West Point in his boot, and it is believed that if he’d been able to pass them on the war for American Independence would have been lost. He was tried and lated hanged.
I was pleased to find a lovely yarn shop. The owner’s son does some dyeing of the yarns in the Bronx. It was hard to remember how close to the Bronx we actually were!
We wanted to visit a few of the landmark tourist attractions and found that most of them were closed!
However, we did manage to get an Uber up to the Union Church of Pocantico Hills. This is a bit of a way out of Sleepy Hollow, and we know this because we couldn’t get an Uber back and had to walk! Anyway, it didn’t matter because it’s an amazing local church, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but so worth a visit.
The church itself is beautiful, built from local stone, but it has a certain humility about it. The bells are actually rung on the hour, which is charming. However, inside it is beyond special. We arrived just as the local guide was locking the doors to begin a tour. Oh my, how lucky we were! For the princely sum of $7 each we were given an hour long exposition on the history of the stained glass windows in the church.
The windows were commissioned by the Rockefeller family. Henri Matisse’s last work, the Rose Window is above the altar and it was commissioned by Nelson A. Rockefeller, as a memorial for his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Abby Rockefeller was the woman credited with bringing a love of art into the Rockefeller family and she began the MoMA underneath the family apartment. Apparently it was called “mother’s museum”! Apparently Matisse didn’t want to do the window as he was very ill, but he was persuaded and the world is a richer place because of it.
The green glass is the only glass in this that is transparent and the trees can be seen through it.
There are also nine windows by Marc Chagall installed in the church. The Matisse was the first and then a large Chagall was commissioned at the opposite end of the nave. There was apparently a bit of opposition to this window, but it is truly magnificent.
This window tells the story of the Good Samaritan, and there are Rockefeller personalities reflected within it. This window is huge and if you look at the photograph of the church you can see the size of it from the outside.
In the interests of fidelity, I have to admit that there are no photographs allowed in the church, so we bought a couple of postcards and it is them that I have reproduced here.
One of the other places we visited was Lyndhurst Castle. It was closed so we could only explore the grounds, but it’s often the outside that appeals to us, so we weren’t concerned.
A very long driveway led us to this view. The Castle was built in 1886 by Alexander Jackson Davis, and it’s right on the banks of the Hudson River in Tarrytown. It was once part of the estate of Jay Gould, who was apparently a fierce railroad baron.
This is the side verandah and the views are sensational.
That’s the Hudson River you can see through the trees.
The stone used is beautiful and the house seemed to glow in the morning light.
Another famous estate in the area, and another one which was closed to us, is Kykuit, which was built by John D Rockefeller in 1913. Three generations lived there and each added to it. We couldn’t even walk the grounds of this one, so I was slightly grumpy.
The first time we visited we stayed the night, but we realised that these villages are an easy trip from Manhattan, so we made the trip again, specifically to visit Sunnyside House, the home of Washington Irving.
We got off the train at Irvington this time, and explored the town. It didn’t take long, the main street is just .8km long! The Main Street area has been designated an historic district by New York State and it has been voted as one of the best places to live in Westchester. We enjoyed the local architecture, but I found my photographs all marred by the overhead power lines – it seems that underground power is not a thing here. This photo also does not do justice to the attractiveness of this village.
If one is in any doubt about the location, it wouldn’t last long. We came across this statue of Rip Van Winkle reclined on the side of the street. Being Australian, I was momentarily confused as I was thinking Jolly Swagman!
The tours at Sunnyside are timed, and we managed to get there in time for a morning tour, in spite of calling in at a church fete and Mark gossiping with the locals! The tour guides at the house are in costume, which I usually find a bit off putting, but it somehow seemed appropriate here.
The house is situated right on the edge of the Hudson River and those power lines service the train that runs right past the house. Apparently Washington Irving (WI) hated the train, even though it used to drop him off right at his doorstep!
A wisteria covers the front of the house – imagine how it looks when this is in full bloom!
Back in WI’s day it was not common for an author to make a living from writing, but he made a very good living, and he enjoyed spending his money. The house had every modern convenience of the day.
He did not subscribe to the architecture of the time, where swathes of trees were sacrificed to provide an area for a large mansion, instead he nestled his house in amongst the trees as he loved nature. The house is therefore quite small, with cosy and beautifully appointed rooms. We get tired of seeing those big mansions so this was a welcome relief.
The house takes its style from many influences and it is truly delightful.
It was added on to at some point.
WI has a rather sad life story. His fiancée died when she was in her late teens and he never married. He was a trained lawyer and was ambassador to Spain for a time. He was born at the end of the American Revolution and named after George Washington, whom he met when he was six, an event captured in a painting which hangs in the house. He was widely travelled and there are “souvenirs” of his travels scattered about. He took in his brother and his brother’s children and they came and went from the house, staying often enough that they had their own bedrooms. He had four nieces as they shared two bedrooms. He was an enthusiastic host and a great conversationalist, inviting many notables of the day to his home.
Once again photographs inside were not allowed, so I shall try and paint a picture.
The dining and drawing rooms are on the river side and open on to the verandah. The furniture was comfortable and the china and glassware beautiful. WI’s study, where he wrote his books, was quite large and had a number of sketches of his fictional characters scattered about. He often worked with others, including his nephew so he had a kneehole desk that accommodated someone either side. There is a sofa in a nook in his study and he apparently took naps in the afternoon on it.
The kitchen was fitted with an actual stove which fed a hot water cylinder, which was state of the art at the time.
The bedrooms are on the upper floor and the ceilings aren’t flat and square, one is barrel shaped, and others take the shape of the roof. It was easy to tell the masculine rooms from the feminine, just by the furniture, but all the beds were covered with beautiful textiles.
WI designed the gardens himself, and they are a delight. I sat on this bench, thinking about WI sitting right here, trying to absorb the atmosphere. Not sure I quite got it!
After Sunnyside we hustled ourselves back to Sleepy Hollow to the markets at Patriot Park, where Mark was able to indulge his love of fresh fruit and vegetables!
We were going to visit Kykuit, which is the Rockefeller mansion, but again, it was a guided tour and it took more than two hours, and to be honest, we just couldn’t face it.
One mansion that we were rather intrigued with was this one. It is a beautiful home and appears to be unoccupied. It is the Villa Lewaro mansion.
A sign in the garden states that it belonged to Madame C J Walker, the first African-American millionairess. I had to know more! A Google search revealed that she was the first child in her family not to be born into slavery. She had about three months of formal schooling and held several menial jobs. She was orphaned at seven and married young to escape a mean brother-in-law.
During the 1890s, she developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose much of her hair, and she began to experiment with various treatments.She worked for a cosmetics company and whilst there developed a line of cosmetics and hair treatments specifically designed for African-American women. Madame Walker opened a beauty school to train beauticians and sales agents. She built the Villa Lewaro to provide a gathering place for many of the local influencers. She was a philanthropist, providing educational scholarships, funding for aged care, and funded the construction of a YMCA in Indianapolis. Why do we not hear more about this remarkable woman?
[added later: we were on the train to Montréal and got chatting to a really interesting woman on the train, an ex-military decoder, who lived in Tarrytown and her great grandmother was trained as a beautician by Madame Walker’s and worked as one of her agents. How cool is that?]
As I mentioned earlier Tarrytown, Sleepy Hollow and Irvington are an easy train ride from Grand Central station. It doesn’t cost very much (especially if you are a senior citizen!), and is well worth the journey. If you are not too ambitious and plan your day carefully, you can see most of the area in a day.