At a certain point in your life you want to put down roots and establish a place of your own. For infamous author Washington Irving that happened at age fifty-two.
Irving purchased a country manor, nothing big or flashy, but a home it was nonetheless. Since the love of his life died when they were teenagers, Irving never married or had children of his own. Instead his home would be a place where his many friends would gather for long visits and where his extended family would live alongside him. It has been said he was the most beloved man of his time.
“Sunnyside” as Irving’s home came to be known, resides in Sleepy Hollow as does his most popular story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. But Washington Irving’s career was much more than just this one book. That is not to say the world’s love affair with it has stopped. Since my visit occurred during the month of October there were special displays all over the home depicting the many ways other artists found inspiration from his literature. These works of art including many paintings, comic books, and several copies of movies made retelling the story Irving created.
As for the home itself, it was charming. It sits along side the Hudson River and provides a very beautiful and relaxing view. I suppose that changed a bit once the railroad was installed after Irving had been living in peace for a few years. While we were there numerous Amtrak trains passed by, the noise is unsettling. Although in Irving’s time there was substantially less traffic and he was paid for his inconvenience. Speaking of which, when he did need to travel into New York City all he had to do was walk down the hill to the railway and flag down the train conductor so he could board. Sunnyside employees DO NOT recommend trying this at any time.
Our tour guide was dressed in period appropriate clothes. Considering the beautiful fall day we were experiencing it didn't seem too out of place. However when he mentioned that the outfit does not change no matter if it is one hundred degrees or below zero that was more impressive. The many layers he had on gave me a hot flash especially considering I was the only one wearing a tank top that day. It is also worth noting these historic homes do not have any AC. I am not even sure how they managed in Irving’s day.
We walked through the dining room, kitchen, servant quarters, music room, and bedrooms but for me getting to step into his office was particularly thrilling. It was were he wrote so many of his greatest works including his final piece about his namesake George Washington. Even though photography was not permitted in the house that room will remain emblazoned in my mind’s eye. I will also never forget seeing his bedroom where he spent the final days and moments of his life. It is a powerful experience to see where someone so great lived on a daily basis. There is something about seeing the common human experience up close.
A story that I found interesting was about one of Irving’s dear friends, Charles Dickens. Dickens had spent some time at Sunnyside in the months before he penned “A Christmas Carol.” While that might not seem extraordinary it is important to note that Irving’s brother Ebenezer, a frugal widower who lived at Sunnyside with his children since it was built, was also present. Coincidence, I think not. Just further proof that inspiration is found all around us.
Ebenezer’s daughters Catherine and Sarah never married and were the last living relatives to inhabit the home. When they could no longer reside there on their own they sold the home to the DuPont family. Yes, that DuPont family.
Upon taking up ownership the DuPont’s built an enormous mansion like addition to Sunnyside that took up much of the land that had been used previously as a farm. I am happy to say that when the home left DuPont hands that addition was torn down. The Historic Hudson Valley Organization now operates and maintains Sunnyside.
Sunnyside remains the same as the day Irving passed away. Most of the furnishings and belongs are all original. The only additions to the property are the ones Irving made during his lifetime, like the Spanish style tower adjacent to the home. Irving wanted his property to seem as natural as possible even if nature had some help with additional shrubbery. There are also many styles of architecture throughout the home depicting the many qualities he saw and loved from having traveled the world extensively.
Washington Irving is buried at nearby Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and I was sure to pay my respects when I took a tour there the week before I visited Sunnyside.
After spending a couple of hours on this property I see why Irving loved it so much. There is so much beauty in his quiet slice of the American Dream and I imagine it was a writer’s paradise. Having a couch in nearly every room for whenever he wanted to rest didn't hurt either!
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