Sleepy Hollow, New York
The Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow is the oldest surviving Dutch Reformed Church building in the United States. It is perhaps even more famous because of its association with Washington Irving’s story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Many prominent early Dutch settlers are also buried in the church yard. Although the Old Dutch Church is kept in excellent condition, it is no longer in general use as a church. Nevertheless it is maintained by a local Reformed Protestant congregation because of its historic importance.
The Old Dutch Church was founded in the 17th century by Frederick Philipse I, an aristocrat with title to a large estate in what is now Westchester County, New York, a title which he held under both the Dutch and later the British. As “lord” of the area, Philipse built a church in 1683 for the use of his “tenants”.
At the urging of his second wife, Philipse constructed a larger, more permanent stone church in the 1690s, with the congregation being formally organized in 1697. It served as the primary church for Philipse Manor throughout the colonial era. After the American Revolution, the estate was seized from the loyalist Philipse family, and the church and congregation were absorbed into the Reformed Church.
In 1820, the Old Dutch Church skyrocketed to National fame after its prominent mention by Washington Irving in his short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. According to the story, it is the Old Dutch Church burial ground that is the site of the haunting of the headless horseman every year on Halloween. The burial ground boasts the graves of several people thought to be inspiration for the story’s characters.
Although the Old Dutch Church continued to serve the local community throughout the 19th century, a growing congregation led to the construction of a new much larger church. Since the new church’s construction, the Old Dutch Church has been used only for special occasions, though services are now held again in summer as well.
The Old Dutch Church is a largish (by 17th century standards) stone building with a clapboard roof and bell tower. The church interior is traditional early church construction, with simple white-washed walls and little decoration beyond the chandelier and utilitarian fixtures. The church’s most beautiful feature is its magnificently carved pulpit which dominates the front of the church.
The church’s most popular feature, and its greatest draw, is the graveyard, which has burials as far back as the early 1700s. Among the burials are members of the Philipse family, as well as members of the Van Tassel family and other families made famous by Washington Irving’s stories.
The Old Dutch Church is located in the center of Sleepy Hollow just north of Tarrytown, approximately thirty miles north of New York City. The cemetery is open to visitors seven days a week from 8:30am to 4:00pm. Visits to the graveyard are particularly popular during October. As of this writing no visitor information was available for the church. Web: http://reformedchurchtarrytowns.org (official website).
Right next door to the Old Dutch Church is the much larger and arguably much more famous Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which is home to many more well-known burials, including the grave site of author Washington Irving.