The Sunnyside of Sleepy Hollow: Visiting Washington Irving’s Home

The mention of Sleepy Hollow conjures up creepy images of the Headless Horseman riding at midnight after poor, silly Ichabod Crane. But there’s a sunnier side of Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown, NY!

In American Lit in college we studied, among others, Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859), who was an American author, essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat of the early 19th century. You probably know him for his short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which recounts the misadventures of Ichabod Crane, who tangled with the infamous Headless Horseman. Irving is indelibly linked to Sleepy Hollow.

But he got there entirely by chance. In 1798 there was an outbreak of yellow fever in Manhattan, which prompted his family to send him, then a child, to a healthier location upriver. Thus it was that Irving was dispatched to stay with family friend James Kirke Paulding in Tarrytown, NY. He stayed at a farm cottage. It was in Tarrytown that Irving became familiar with the nearby town of Sleepy Hollow, with its quaint Dutch customs and local ghost stories.

He wrote “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in 1820, while he was in England. That story, along with his other famous story, “Rip Van Winkle,” were published as part of Irving’s book, The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. 
Fifteen years later, Irving returned to Tarry Town and Sleepy Hollow and purchased the neglected farm cottage and its surrounding riverfront property. “It is a beautiful spot,” Irving wrote, “capable of being made a little paradise.” The house, which he named Sunnyside, required constant repair and renovation over the next 20 years. The grounds reflect Washington Irving’s romantic view of art, nature, and history. He arranged garden paths, trees and shrubs, vistas, and water features to appear natural, and planted an exotic wisteria vine (still growing) to envelope the house. I recommend visited Sunnyside when the wisteria is in bloom — it must be amazing.
Sunnyside contains a large collection of Irving’s original furnishings and accessories. In particular, all furniture and most accessories in his writer’s study are original. The study, dining room, parlor, kitchen, as well as most bedrooms, are open to the public and contain much of their original furnishings, or replacements which were owned by the Irving family.

He died there, in his beloved home. On the night of November 28, 1859, at 9 pm, Irving died of a heart attack in his bedroom at the age of 76. He was buried under a simple headstone at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, overlooking the Old Dutch Church Burial Ground, which is where the headless Hessian soldier is purportedly buried.

Getting there: 3 W Sunnyside Lane, Irvington, NY 10533
Dogs: No
Hours: Admission by timed tours only. May 2 to November 8, Wednesday – Sunday. Also open holiday Mondays: Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Columbus Day. Weekends: Every half hour. First tour 10 am, last tour 3:30 pm . Weekdays: 10:30 am, 11, 11:30, 12:30 pm, 1:30, 2, 2:30, 3, 3:30.

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