“It stands on a knoll…” So begins Washington Irving’s description of the church in the The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the rest, so they say, is history. We all know the story of Ichabod Crane and his encounter with the Headless Horseman, but the setting for the story is a real place. And it is really called Sleepy Hollow. The church is known as the Old Dutch Church and it does sit on a knoll beside a river that has been running through the town of Sleepy Hollow, New York as long as there has been a town and even before that.
It was built in 1685 along the old Albany Post Road. The bell that still hangs in the belfry was commissioned in Holland and reflects the same year of 1685. The churchyard that surrounds the small rock church is actually even older. In fact the inspiration for Katrina Van Tassel is buried here. Her real name was Eleanor Van Tassel Brush and she was born in 1764 in the vicinity of the church. Irving visited the church in the early 19th century and must have gained quite a bit of inspiration from the visit.
On the day I visited, it was a beautiful spring day. The trees were that bright green so associated with springtime, and there were blooms everywhere. Near the church is a bridge that is apparently the bridge that inspired Ichabod’s flight to escape the Headless Horseman. Of course these days it isn’t a wooden bridge used by wagons and horses, but is built for cars. Nearby is a reproduction of perhaps the type of bridge that would have existed. It sits down in a hollow filled with dense forest. As you pass by, you can very easily imagine the scene from the story playing out like a movie before your eyes. Clip, clop. Clip, clop. The imagined sound of a horse’s hooves stepping across the planks would be enough to send a shiver down the spine of anyone standing near this spot at dusk.
The church itself is now only used for special occasions, but its thick rock walls and rounded exterior very much remind you of a time long ago when this area was filled with Dutch farms. The graveyard is full of Revolutionary War veterans and other prominent members of this very old community…
..but perhaps the most famous is a phantom resident. Irving put it best:
“Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that the body of the trooper, having been buried in the church-yard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head; and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the church-yard before daybreak.” —The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
All photos are by the author.