“The schoolmaster is generally a man of some importance in the female circle of a rural neighborhood; being considered a kind of idle, gentlemanlike personage, of vastly superior taste and accomplishments to the rough country swains, and, indeed, inferior in learning only to the parson. Our man of letters, therefore, was peculiarly happy in the smiles of all the country damsels. How he would figure among them in the churchyard, between services on Sundays; gathering grapes for them from the wild vines that overran the surrounding trees; reciting for their amusement all the epitaphs on the tombstones; or sauntering, with a whole bevy of them, along the banks of the adjacent millpond; while the more bashful country bumpkins hung sheepishly back, envying his superior elegance and address.
From the Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Crossing the wooden bridge onto the grounds of Philipsburg Manor is like walking into a living history story book. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is of course, fiction. But Washington Irving included enough fact and local folklore from Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, New York, to make it very easy to blur the lines.
The mill pond which Ichabod walked his dates around is still there, and the mill is still operational. Look in just the right direction and you see the Old Dutch Church, where his confrontation ended with the headless horseman, right there through the trees. If you’re looking for what life would have been like on Baltus Van Tassell’s farm, you’re in the right place.
Philipsburg Manor is a living history historic attraction operated by Historic Hudson Valley (which also operates Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, Van Cortland Manor and Kykuit), and they get the details right. Even the livestock is painstakingly chosen to be authentic to the period and the region. I’ve been to many restorations where everything is labelled and covered in signage, which okay, is great for learning about what you’re seeing. But it makes it damned hard to feel like you’re back in time. Given the choice between the two, I’ll do my homework first and choose the latter.
Despite the connection to Washington Irving’s whimsical story, there’s more to the history of Philipsburg Manor. Much more. Philipsburg Manor was nearly a century old by the time we get into the era in which The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was set, being founded in 1693.
Fredrick Philipse I, Lord of Philipse Manor was from the region of Netherlands called Friesland. He first settled in Flatbush on Long Island selling nails, worked his way up to tavern owner, then took the route to wealth many intelligent men through the ages have followed. He married a woman with money. Together they capitalized on a land grant from the crown, and bought a sizable estate in Westchester county and lured many of his friends there with a promise of work and low taxes.
His plantation in Sleepy Hollow, situated on the banks of the Hudson River at the point where the Pocantico River empties into it, became the center of his world-wide shipping operation. Sadly, his empire was built with slave labor. Philipse was one of the largest slave-holders in the northern colonies, purchasing at least 23 human lives. His holdings eventually stretched from the Croton River, down to what is now Riverdale, in the Bronx.
Today, Philipsburg Manor is both educational, and a perfect opportunity to step back in time. Restored to 1750, the manor contains many 17th and 18th century furnishings, its own dairy, offices, bedrooms, parlor and warehouse rooms. There are usually several demonstrations going on, along with many hands-on activities. Talking with an informed interpreter, like you find at Philipsburg Manor to me is a much better way of learning about a place than signs placed on or near every object.
Philipsburg Manor is undoubtedly one of my favorites of the living history restorations I’ve visited as a travel photographer. If you’re looking for an educational opportunity, you’ll find it. If you’re looking for a great book and gift shop for souvenirs and books about the area’s history, it’s one of the best. But what I like most of all, is just strolling the grounds and letting the imagination take over. It’s an enchanted place where cultures, history and folk-lore converged, and has been inspiring the imagination ever since.
“His greatest treasure of historic lore, however, was discovered in an old goblin-looking mill, situated among rocks and water-falls, with clanking wheels, and rushing streams, and all kinds of uncouth noises. A horse-shoe, nailed to the door to keep off witches and evil spirits, showed that this mill was subject to awful visitations. As we approached it, an old negro thrust his head, all dabbled with flour, out of a hole above the water-wheel, and grinned, and rolled his eyes, and looked like the very hobgoblin of the place. The illustrious Diedrich fixed upon him, at once, as the very one to give him that invaluable kind of information, never to be acquired from books. He beckoned him from his nest, sat with him by the hour on a broken mill-stone, by the side of the waterfall, heedless of the noise of the water, and the clatter of the mill; and I verily believe it was to his conference with his African sage, and the precious revelations of the good dame of the spinning wheel, that we are indebted for the surprising though true history ofIchabod Crane and the headless horseman, which has since astounded and edified the world.”
From Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving
Philipsburg Manor is located in Sleepy Hollow, New York, on Route 9A. For more information about Philipsburg Manor, see their website here. To learn more about Washington Irving and his associated with Sleepy Hollow, go here.
Real ghost stories and the places that inspired them