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A Brief History of Tarrytown

statue1.jpgSituated on the eastern shore of the Hudson River, in an area called the Tappan Zee, (Tappan for the Tappan Indians who once lived in what is now Rockland County, and Zee meaning sea in the Dutch language), lies the village of Tarrytown, a village rich in history and of course, local legend. It is a village of rolling hills, twenty-five miles north of New York City.

The first residents of what eventually became Tarrytown were the Weckquaesgeeks Indians. The Weckquasgeeks were a friendly tribe that were closely related to the Wappinger Confederacy and further related to the Mohicans. They raised corn, squash, beans, and tobacco. They fished the Hudson for shad, oysters and other shellfish. They hunted the area for deer and black bear. They also trapped for fur and hides for clothing, and later traded these with the Dutch. Their principle settlement was at the foot of Church Street at place they called Alipconk,or the Place of Elms.

Records show that the first residence in Tarrytown was built in 1645; however, the exact location is not known. The first white settlers were Dutch and that they were farmers, fur trappers, and fishermen. Tarrytown soil was light and loamy which was ideal for growing cereals; especially wheat. This led to the area being known as Wheat Town, or Terve Town, which later became mispronounced as Tarrytown. However, I prefer Washington Irving's interpretation of the origin of Tarrytown's name, in "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow" which was published in the Sketch Book in 1820. Irving began his story, "In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators of the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port which by some is called Greenburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent county, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days." Washington Irving has had the distinction of being the first American writer who was recognized by the British and European community. There have been countless references, and movies made about his famous story. Our local high school is named Sleepy Hollow High School, and our local team is named the Horsemen.

A great deal of our history began when Frederick Philipse, a wealthy businessman, began buying land in 1681 and became the largest land- owner in the Tarrytown area. He controlled 22 miles of land from the Croton River, south to Spuyten Duyvil, and from the Hudson, east to the Bronx River. He acquired 90,000 acres and built his main home and gristmill in our sister town of Sleepy Hollow. This was his main distribution center for grain on the Hudson. Frederick Philipse was also responsible for building The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow in 1685. When Frederick died in 1702, his son Adolph became "Lord of the Manor". He doubled the size of the original home and increased the capacity of the mill by adding a third set of millstones so that he could grind barley and corn as well as his wheat. The main home and gristmill have been restored to appear as it did in the mid-18th century and is currently a historic restoration that may be visited, and is under the auspices of Historic Hudson Valley.

sign1.jpgThroughout the 18th century most of life continued to revolve around the mill. However, there were a small number of farms in Tarrytown that grew mostly wheat, and there were a few taverns and shops. Gradually a few industries began to appear. In 1868 a wagon and carriage factory was opened on Orchard Street. An early leading industry was the Silver Shoe Factory on Washington Street opened by the Silver brothers in 1871. They produced "high end" footwear and employed 150 workers. The Woodward Steam Pump Co. opened in 1875 on lower Main Street. Albert P. Husted Sr. moved his silk factory from New Jersey and began manufacturing silk braids and other goods at the corner of Main Street and Depot Plaza in 1881. The Cooper Flour Mill opened a five story building in 1886 and refined 300 barrels of flour a day. John Brown had a boatyard and built fine yachts in 1890 near the Main Street Landings. He also had a cider mill and made some of the best cider in the county. The automobile industry began in the area in 1899 with the Mobile Company of U.S.A. and they manufactured Walker Steamers. They were followed by Maxwell-Briscoe, and then, The Chevrolet Motor Co. in 1915 that became the General Motors Assembly Division in 1918. The General Motors plant was in North Tarrytown, now Sleepy Hollow, but was often listed as the G.M. Assembly Division, Tarrytown, New York. During World War II the assembly plant was retooled to make wings for grumman torpedo bombers and was named Eastern Aircraft employing 10,000 workers, 2,900 of the workers were women. The G.M. industry has always been very important to Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown because they poured a great deal of money into the economy and hired so many people from both communities. Before the 1970's most workers lived in Tarrytown or Sleepy Hollow. Later, when more workers were hired outside of the villages, local residents could always tell when a shift ended at General Motors by the amount of traffic that streamed through the towns. More recently, Morse Business Machines have been selling copiers and scanners since 1998. Miller, Procktor and Nickolas, Inc. have been representatives for industrial boilers and pumps, and have provided repair services to large companies since 1981. On the southern end of town is the General Motors Training Center that instructs dealer technicians in the repair of specialty problems such as electronics. They have been in Tarrytown since 1955. General Foods became Kraft General Foods in 1989 and is involved in product development, packaging, and quality control. Hitachi has been in Tarrytown since 1984 and has their corporate offices here. The president of Hitachi America resides in Tarrytown. According to sources at Tarrytown Village Hall, more industry will soon be coming into Tarrytown.

One very important event occurred in Tarrytown, during the Revolutionary War. On September 23, 1780, three local militiamen, John Paulding, Isaac Van Wart, and David Williams, captured the British spy, Major John Andre. Major Andre was carrying papers describing the fortification of West Point, given to him by Benedict Arnold. The clandestine meeting near Haverstraw ended at dawn making it too risky for the Loyalists to row Andre back to the Vulture, which was to carry him back to British Headquarters in New York City. The next day the Americans fired upon the Vulture from Croton Point, forcing it to leave without Andre. There is a historical marker at the foot of Church Street because Americans again fired on the Vulture as it passed by Tarrytown. Benedict Arnold recommended that Andre travel by land on the eastside of the Hudson and was traveling south on horseback, eventually reaching the neutral territory of Tarrytown.

John Paulding, who had recently escaped from a British prison in New York City was wearing a Hessian coat, and Andre approached the group thinking they were allies. He was stopped and questioned by the three militiamen who found the plans to West Point hidden in Andre's boot. Andre was brought to the authorities. He was tried and convicted as a spy because he had traveled in civilian clothes instead of British uniform, and hanged in Tappan, New York on October 2, 1780.

A monument was erected near Patriot's Park on Broadway in 1853 followed by a large parade and dedication. There was another ceremony in 1883, the 100th anniversary. The height of the monument was increased and a bronze stature of John Paulding was added. There is a dedication in stone on the south side of the monument. It reads, "On this spot the 23rd day of September, 1780, the spy, Major John Andre, Adjutant General of the British Army, was captured by John Paulding, David Williams, and Isaac Van Wart, all natives of this county. History has told the rest. The people of Westchester County have erected this Monument, as well to commemorate a great Event, as to testify their high estimation of that Integrity and Patriotism which, rejecting every temptation, rescued the United States from most imminent peril by baffling the arts of a Spy and the plots of a Traitor....Dedicated October 7, 1853." On the north side of the block an inscription reads, "Their conduct merits our warmest esteem. They have prevented, in all probability, our suffering one of the severest strokes that could have been meditated against us"...Washington.

1849 was a turning point in the history of Tarrytown as the New York & Hudson River Railroad connected New York City and Albany as it passed through Tarrytown. The Railroad decreased the amount of steamboat traffic on the river, and it began the change from rural farming in Tarrytown. The railroad increased the population that began to work in factories, tool works and other industries that sprang up on the River. At that time, the Hudson River reached to the bottom of Cottage Place and Windle Park. Orchard Street, Depot Plaza, and Franklin Courts were built on top of landfill.

Orchard Street, which was in existence from 1845 to 1969, became the true business section of Tarrytown. It ran south from Valley and Wildey Street to Franklin and White Street. It consisted of several blocks of beautiful 19th century buildings, and it was said that anything you wanted could be found on Orchard Street. By the 1960's there had been several devastating fires, and the buildings were beginning to look run down. As a result, in1969 the difficult decision to raze Orchard Street was made to make way for Urban Renewal and the building of Asbury Terrace.

The Tappan Zee Bridge was completed in 1955 after three years of construction. It was built at the widest point of the river and was another great turning point in the history of Tarrytown. It was built to connect I-87 coming north from New York City, crossing the Hudson River at Tarrytown as I-87 crossed through Rockland County north to Albany. Later, the Tappan Zee Bridge was connected to the Cross Westchester Expressway (287) and with I-95. The six-lane bridge has been increased to seven lanes, and is currently carrying 135,000 vehicles a day. Many commuters from Rockland County cross the bridge, travel through local streets and park near the Tarrytown Station to continue their commute to New York City by railroad. At times, this has caused a considerable increase in traffic through Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. Plans are being considered today by the NYSDOT to greatly increase the strength of the existing Tappan Zee Bridge at a cost of 1.3 billion dollars, or to build a new adjacent dual deck bridge with 8-12 lanes, or to consider the feasibility of building a tunnel. Whatever the decision, the results will continue to influence Tarrytown for many years.

At the turn of the century the Tarrytown skyline was filled with innumerable castle-mansions and Tarrytown was known as "Millionaire's Colony". "Millionaire's Colony" was the wealthiest place of its size in the world according to Tarrytown historian William C. Gross who wrote under the pseudonym of Wally Buxton. There were more than 65 grand estates existing at the time, so many, that I will only mention those few that are still standing.

Carrollcliff was in the Tudor style and built by General Howard Carroll from stone quarried on the property, and nearby Glenville. Carroll was a political and traveling correspondent for the New York Times, a playwright, and organizer of a street paving company. There were 45 rooms in the castle that stood on 64 acres. The Carrolls lived in Carrollcliff until 1940, when it became a boys' school for a short period of time. It was then renamed Axe Castle and owned by Axe Houghton Securities for many years. Today, the Equus it is a fine restaurant that sits upon the highest point in Tarrytown.

Hillcrest, a mansion with stables, was built in 1882 by Captain William Casey on 18 acres of land. Mark Twain bought the estate in 1902 and lived there for two years. Twain had a dispute with the village regarding the assessment of the estate, and in 1904 sold it to Charles Gardner, an attorney. In 1915 Gardner sold the estate to Jacques Halle, a member of the New York Stock Exchange. Halle demolished the old home and made a larger mansion that he called Halleston. His wife lived there until 1941. It was then acquired by area developer, David Swope, and it was renamed Tappan Hill. It became a restaurant for many years. Today, Tappan Hill is owned by Abigail Kirsch and is an elegant reception choice for weddings and lavish parties.

Kykuit was built by John D. Rockefeller in 1902, and has been the home to four generations of the Rockefeller family. Kykuit means "high point" in Dutch and has breathtaking views of the Hudson River. Kykuit is home to beautiful furniture, paintings and sculptures. The grounds contain wonderful terraces, fountains, gardens, and a large collection of 20th century sculpture. Kykuit also has a large collection of antique cars and horse drawn vehicles.

sign2.jpgEdward W. Harden built a Georgian brick mansion, Harden House, in 1909. Edward Harden was a noted war correspondent for the New York Times and was stationed in the Philippines when Admiral Dewey destroyed the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, on May l, 1898. Harden was interested in the Maria Montessori system of education and allowed a section of his mansion to be used for a Montessori kindergarten. Ironically, today Harden's mansion is being used for the administration building for the Union Free School District of the Tarrytowns. The Harden House is technically in Sleepy Hollow, but I mention it because the southern part of the building almost touches the Andre Brook, which is the border between Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

Lyndhurst, the former home of railroad magnate Jay Gould, George Merritt, and William Paulding on South Broadway still stands as the finest example of Gothic Architecture in the United States. The castle furnishings, accumulated by the three families that have lived there, are outstanding. The famous architect, Alexander Jackson Davis, who designed the castle, designed much of the Gothic Revival furniture as well. Reconstruction of their large conservatory that housed thousands of exotic flowers has begun. A walk on the magnificent grounds is a very special experience.

Another beautiful mansion, that still stands today, is The Cedars built by Edmond Coffin in 1850. Today it is the Headquarters for the American Book Sellers Association at Broadway and Sunnyside Lane in the southern part of Tarrytown.

Although not a mansion, we must mention the Tarrytown Music Hall, built by William Wallace, the chocolate candy manufacturer. Music Hall was built it in 1885 in the Queen Anne style, and it is the oldest continually operating theater in Westchester. The interior is beautiful with the Victorians' care to craftsmanship, and the Art Deco- style. Wallace built the theater right in the heart of town on Main Street. The main entrance used to be on Kaldenberg Place but was moved to Main Street when a larger marquee was added in 1925. Flower shows, balls, and concerts were held there. In 1901, Music Hall was one of the first theaters to show motion pictures. Presidents Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson have made appearances there. The acoustics are considered phenomenal and artists such as Tony Bennett, Joan Baez, David Bromberg, Dizzy Gillespie, The Preservation Hall of Jazz and Bruce Springsteen have performed there. More then 50 recordings have been made there since 1980.

The millionaires of "Millionaire's Colony" greatly contributed to Tarrytown's economy. Every mansion and castle was built mostly by local tradesmen, every estate had many local workmen, and every local merchant had his share of millionaire customers.

Tarrytown, being home to the "Millionaire's Colony", also attracted many students to its private schools and its boarding schools. The first private school to appear in the Tarrytown area was the Irving School for Boys in 1837. It was followed by the very fashionable Castle School, or Miss Mason's school for girls. There was also Mrs. Leonard's School, the Home Institute. Newman's Military Academy, Starr's Military Academy, the Jane R. & H.L. Buckley school for girls, The Knox School, The Highland Manor School, Repton School for boys, the Andre Brook School, Tarrytown School, St. Vincent dePaul. Hackley, and Fordham-Marymount still educate today.

In 1947 Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, the former North Tarrytown, were selected by the American Associations for the United Nations, and the National Broadcasting Company to celebrate United Nations Week with a great festival of peace. Mayor Sterling Fisher of Tarrytown and Mayor H. Tilden Swan of North Tarrytown gave speeches as they welcomed U.N. dignitaries. Local churches began each day with opening services, and lunches honoring people of all nationalities were served. There was an exhibition of Polish dancers and an exhibition of Chinese dancing. There were Swiss yodelers, craft exhibits, and flower shows. Local residents donned clothes of different nationalities. There was also a Doll Show with dolls representing many countries. There were fire works at night and a large parade led by two U.N. dignitaries concluded the week's ceremonies. It was quite an honor for Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow to have been chosen.

In 1970 we celebrated the hundredth year of Tarrytown's incorporation. In 1976 we celebrated the Bicentennial of the United States with parades. Tall Ships sailed up the Hudson to the Tappan Zee Bridge, and smaller sailing ships from The Netherlands moored their boats at the Tarrytown Boat Club.

Today Tarrytown has a population of approximately 11,500 and we have several decisions facing us that shall shape our future. One decision that will have to be made is what we will do regarding the Tappan Zee Bridge. How will this effect traffic, our personal lives, and commuters? Tarrytown is facing expansion west of the railroad tracks with the Ferryland Development. Will village hall, and the police department be on the west side of the tracks? Our sister town, Sleepy Hollow is planning a large development to be called Lighthouse Landing. Another development, Ichobod Landing is already under construction and has already changed the skyline of the area. We will have to work together to truly plan for an increase in traffic, and an increase in population. The manner in which the Union Free School District of the Tarrytowns responds to this increase in population will be another issue that has to be addressed.

This year marks the 225th year of the capture of Major John Andre by Tarrytown's three militiamen, and we will be celebrating that event. If Andre had not been captured carrying the plans regarding the fortification of West Point, the outcome of the Revolutionary War and thus the history of our village and of our nation might have been quite different indeed.

Richard Miller Village Historian, 2005

 

 


 
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