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Writer's Spirit Welcomes at Sleepy Hollow Home

November 02, 1986|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

TARRYTOWN, N.Y. — Washington Irving welcomed us to the autumn afternoon at his Sunnyside home here in Sleepy Hollow.

The spirit of the author who created such early 19th-Century classics as "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" seemed to reach out to us as we approached the Pagoda tower, the Dutch stepped gables and the Gothic entrance of the home that introduces544042867foundation known as Sleepy Hollow Restorations.

This foundation, supported by Rockefeller contributions, is a key part of the work aimed at transforming the entire Hudson River Valley into a destination comparable to the Danube and the Rhine.

Sunnyside is one of three historic manor houses already restored by Sleepy Hollow Restorations. It has been made to look as it did when Washington Irving lived here during the final years of his life, from 1835 to 1859.

As we stepped through the front doors and went from room to room, America's first internationally successful author came closer to us. Our hostess, wearing the bonnet and hoop skirt visitors might have worn, led us from the book-lined study to the parlor where Irving played the flute while his nieces accompanied him on the rosewood piano.

In his study are some of the many books he collected during his 17 years in Europe, several of them as a U.S. diplomat in London and Madrid. The seven bedrooms in the main house and four in the tower are each furnished in the personal character he gave them, with European touches as well as decor from the early Hudson River estate era.

Irving could have been leading the way himself when we walked on up the hill beneath leaves tinted with gold to watch swans gliding across the pond he called his Little Mediterranean.

Looked Out at Sailboat

From paths to his 24-acre estate above the Hudson River, my wife and I looked out at a sailboat with swan-like sails on the waters where the river widens into what early Dutch colonists named the Tappan Zee; in Dutch as in German, zee means lake. Irving often said he had seen nothing anywhere in the United States or Europe to compare with this view.

There are residents of Tarrytown who say that on a starry night far out on the Tappan Zee they have heard the notes from Washington Irving's flute and rosewood piano echoing across the quiet waters. There are others who swear that when the night is dark they have heard Ichabod Crane fleeing in terror from the thundering hoofs of the Headless Horseman who pursued him in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

Sleepy Hollow Restorations is reaching out to help the Hudson River Valley Assn. and other public and private efforts to preserve historic sites and natural attractions along 150 miles of the Hudson River Valley between New York City and Albany. The first step in its new expansion program has been to spend $3.5 million to buy Montgomery Place, a Hudson River estate dating from 1805 about 75 miles north of Tarrytown.

The announcement of plans for restoration of the 23-room Montgomery Place estate, on 443 wooded acres, came during the Statue of Liberty Centennial celebration in New York City and the Tricentennial of Albany at the northern anchor point of the Hudson Valley route. The valley has been named New York's Fall Festival region, with a full calendar of events going right on into winter.

Immigrated as Carpenter

Philipsburg Manor in North Tarrytown is the oldest of the Sleepy Hollow restorations. Its story begins with Frederick Philipse who immigrated as a carpenter from Holland to what was then New Amsterdam. He rose to great wealth, with his ships carrying flour from wheat grown on the 50,000-acre Royal Grant he received in 1693 to ports around the world.

Van Cortlandt Manor, at the confluence of the Hudson and Croton rivers, is another Sleepy Hollow restoration that shows that the wealth of early economic lords living along the Hudson rivaled those whose castles overlooked the Rhine and the Danube.

The manor of Cortlandt was established in 1697 on a grant of 86,000 acres from King William III. The long walk from the Ferry House to the manor house is lined with orchards and tulip gardens.

Lyndhurst Estate near Sunnyside is a restored castle-like villa built in the 1930s and later occupied by industrialist Jay Gould. The spacious grounds are used for summer concerts under the stars and are a setting for elegant picnics.

At Union Church in nearby Pocantico Hills, the stained-glass windows are masterpieces created by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall, commissioned as memorials by the Rockefeller family. The church has an active congregation of members from throughout Sleepy Hollow.

In the village of Nyack on the west side of Tappan Zee Bridge, actress Helen Hayes has a home amid the Victorian gingerbread houses. The former home of artist Edward Hopper is an art center.

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