The oldest existing church in New York, the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow (also known as the Dutch Reformed Church) and its two-and-a-half-acre colonial-era burying ground served as the inspiration for Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
Published in 1820, Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is the first story written by an American to achieve universal acclaim. It is widely read and the subject of over a half dozen major films. It tells the story of Ichabod Crane, a superstitious schoolmaster from Connecticut who competes with Abraham Van Brunt, a local Dutch-American, known as “Brom Bones” for the hand of Katrina Van Tassel, daughter of a “substantial Dutch farmer.” Following an autumn “frolic” at the Van Tassels’, Schoolmaster Crane mysteriously disappears. Many claimed Ichabod was driven off by the galloping headless ghost of a Hessian trooper who got decapitated by a cannonball during the American Revolutionary War. Brom, however, looked “exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related.” Thus, Irving leaves the reader wondering if the goblin chased off the schoolmaster, or could it have been Van Brunt?
Founded in 1685, the church is among the oldest in the United States and still has an active congregation. Construction began around 1682 by Frederick Philipse, lord of a huge manor in the lower Hudson Valley. His lordship built with the church two-foot-thick walls composed of local fieldstone. A carpenter by trade, he built the pulpit himself and lies buried with thirteen family members under the church floorboards.
The Friends of the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization, maintains and preserves the site. It was named a National Historic Landmark in 1961. Today, the church is owned by the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns and still used for summer services and on Easter and Christmas Eve.
Among the notables buried on in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery adjacent to the church’s grounds are Andrew Carnegie, Walter Chrysler, Samuel Gompers, Elizabeth Arden, Leona Helmsley, Brooke Astor, and William Rockefeller. The cemetery also holds the remains of local people who inspired Washington Irving’s “Sleepy Hollow” characters. Every autumn, tens of thousands of visitors flock to the Old Dutch Church and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery for seasonal events that draw on the legend.
Know Before You Go
The closest Metro-North stop is Philipse Manor, which is about a half-mile walk to the church. There's plenty of overflow parking, but expect heavy traffic throughout autumn.