Mount Pleasant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Mount Pleasant mansion in Fairmount Park, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2019:

Fairmount Park is located along the banks of the Schuylkill River, several miles to the northwest of downtown Philadelphia. During the colonial era, this area of the city was still sparsely-settled, and the bluffs overlooking the river were desirable locations for the country estates of some of Philadelphia’s affluent families. These mansions were generally used as summer homes, allowing these families to escape the heat and diseases of the densely-populated city center. Most of the homes were built in the 18th or early 19th centuries, and 16 are still standing today as part of Fairmount Park, the largest park in Philadelphia. Of these, perhaps the finest mansion is Mount Pleasant, which was built here in the early 1760s on the east bank of the Schuylkill River.

Mount Pleasant was designed by Thomas Nevell, and it is an excellent example of colonial Georgian-style architecture. As was typical for Georgian houses of the period, its design is symmetrical, and it makes use of decorative elements such as quoins on the corners, a pedimented doorway, a Palladian window, and a hip roof with dormers. The main house is flanked by two smaller buildings with matching exteriors. The one on the north side—which is just out of view on the right side of this scene—was the office, and the one on the south side, in the foreground of these photos, was the summer kitchen.

The original owner of this house was John MacPherson, a sea captain who became wealthy as a privateer during the French and Indian War. In command of the 20-gun ship Britannia, MacPherson captured several dozen French vessels throughout the war, in the process hurting the French war effort while simultaneously enriching himself. His exploits cost him his right arm, which he lost to a French cannonball in the midst of a battle, but upon returning to Philadelphia he used his new wealth to build his country estate here in Philadelphia. He originally named it Clunie, after his family’s ancestral home in Scotland, but subsequently changed it to Mount Pleasant. The size of the property also changed during MacPherson’s ownership; he started with about 31 acres, but the estate eventually grew to 120 acres.

MacPherson was a patriot during the American Revolution, and he even made an ultimately unsuccessful bid to become commander of the newly-established Continental Navy. His two sons, William and John, served in the Continental Army during the war. William resigned his commission as a British lieutenant in order to join the Continental Army, and he eventually became a brevet major and served on the staff of the Marquis de Lafayette. His brother John was also a staff officer during the war, serving as aide-de-camp to General Richard Montgomery, but both he and Montgomery were killed in the Battle of Quebec on December 31, 1775.

In the meantime, the elder John MacPherson interacted with high-ranking members of the Continental Congress, which met in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall throughout the war. On at least one occasion, on September 25, 1775, Massachusetts delegate John Adams visited him here at Mount Pleasant for dinner. The future president subsequently wrote about it in his diary, commenting on the house, his family, and MacPherson’s naval ambitions:

Rode out of town, and dined with Mr. McPherson. He has the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania, a clever Scotch wife, and two pretty daughters. His seat is on the banks of the Schuylkill. He has been nine times wounded in battle; an old sea commander; made a fortune by privateering; an arm twice shot off, shot through the leg, &c. He renews his proposals of taking or burning ships.

Despite living in “the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania,” MacPherson eventually decided to move out of the house and offer it for sale. He had no immediate buyers, but in the meantime he leased the house to Juan de Miralles, Spain’s unofficial envoy to the United States. Although Spain was officially neutral at this point in the war, Miralles established connections with many American leaders in Philadelphia, including by hosting lavish balls here at Mount Pleasant.

Then, in 1779 General Benedict Arnold purchased Mount Pleasant from John MacPherson. At the time, Arnold was still an ostensibly loyal officer in the Continental Army. He had been a hero at the Battle of Saratoga, but in the process he suffered a leg injury. During his recovery he was unable to fight on the front lines, so Washington appointed him military governor of Philadelphia in 1778. However, Arnold’s volatile personality made him ill-suited for a position that required tact and subtlety in dealing with local leaders, and he also faced accusations that he was using his position to enrich himself. It was also during his time in Philadelphia that Arnold met and fell in love with 18-year-old Peggy Shippen, whose wealthy family had Loyalist sympathies. Despite being twice her age and from a very different social background, Arnold began courting her later in 1778, and they were married on April 8, 1779.

At the time, Arnold’s financial situation was somewhat strained, and he was under suspicion for misusing his authority for personal gain. However, he purchased Mount Pleasant as a wedding gift for Peggy, giving the impression that he was wealthier than he really was. In reality, he was hampered by debt, which would only worsen after he and Peggy moved in here and began living a lavish lifestyle. This, combined with Arnold’s belief that patriot leaders were not grateful for his actions and sacrifices that he made on the battlefield, ultimately helped lead him to famously betray the Continental Army in 1780. Peggy likely played a role in this decision as well, as she had Loyalist connections and may have helped initiate contact between Arnold and his British handler, Major John André.

As it turned out, the Arnolds’ stay here at Mount Pleasant was short. His treason was discovered after André was captured on September 23, 1780, and Arnold himself only narrowly escaped capture. Mount Pleasant was subsequently confiscated, and it changed hands several times before being purchased by Peggy’s father, Edward Shippen, in 1784. Despite his Loyalist connections during the war, and the infamy of his son-in-law, Shippen remained a respected member of Philadelphia society, eventually becoming chief justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. He owned Mount Pleasant until 1792, when he sold it to Jonathan Williams.

Originally from Boston, Williams spent much of the Revolutionary period in France, first as a secretary to his great uncle, Benjamin Franklin, and then as a commercial agent of the United States. He later became an Army officer upon returning to the United States, and he held the position of Chief of Engineers for the Army Corps of Engineers from 1802 to 1803, and 1805 to 1812. During this time, he also became the first superintendent of West Point, serving from 1801 to 1803, and 1805 to 1812. In 1814 Williams was elected to the House of Representatives, but he died just two months into his term in 1815, without ever having attended a session of Congress.

After his death, his son Henry J. Williams inherited Mount Pleasant, and the house remained in the Williams family until 1853. By this point, the banks of the Schuylkill River were no longer as desirable a location for country estates as they had been a century earlier, in part because the city’s growth was encroaching on the area. Starting in the mid-19th century, the city of Philadelphia began purchasing estates along the river, in order to better protect the public water supply. These acquisitions became Fairmount Park, and in 1868 the city purchased Mount Pleasant and added it to the parkland.

The first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, and it shows the exterior in a somewhat deteriorated condition, with plenty of peeling paint on both the main house and the kitchen building. However, in 1927 Mount Pleasant was restored by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has administered the house ever since. It underwent another major restoration in the early 2000s, and today its exterior looks far better than it did when the first photo was taken 120 years ago. Adams’s description of it as being “the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania” is as true now as it was in 1775, and in 1974 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark because of its historic and architectural significance.

Nassau Hall, Princeton, New Jersey

Nassau Hall at Princeton University, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

Nassau Hall, which opened in 1756, is the oldest building on the Princeton campus, and among the oldest college buildings in the United States. The College of New Jersey, as it was known at the time, was established in 1746, and it was originally located in Elizabeth before moving to Newark in 1747. Then, in 1753 Nathaniel FitzRandolph donated a plot of land here in Princeton to the school, and a year later the cornerstone was laid for this building. The building was nearly named for Governor Jonathan Belcher, but he demurred out of modesty, instead suggesting it be named Nassau Hall in honor of William III, who was from the House of Nassau.

Upon completion, Nassau Hall was one of the largest buildings in the English colonies, and the largest in New Jersey. It was the only building on campus at the time, so it was home to all of the school’s amenities, including a meeting hall, a dining room, offices, classrooms, and dormitory rooms. There were 70 students enrolled when the school moved here to Princeton, and its faculty consisted of the president, at the time Aaron Burr Sr., and two tutors. It was designed by Philadelphia architect Robert Smith, and one of the earliest descriptions of the building appeared in 1760 in the New American Magazine, which emphasized its rather spartan design:

There are three flat-arched doors on the north side giving access by a flight of steps to the three separate entries. At the center is a projecting section of five bays surmounted by a pediment with circular windows, and other decorations. The only ornamental feature above the cornice, is the cupola, standing somewhat higher than the twelve fireplace chimneys. Beyond these there are no features of distinction.

The simple interior design is shown in the plan, where a central corridor provided communication with the students’ chambers and recitation rooms, the entrances, and the common prayer hall; and on the second floor, with the library over the central north entrance. The prayer hall was two stories high, measured 32 by 40 feet, and had a balcony at the north end which could be reached from the second-story entry. Partially below ground level, though dimly lighted by windows, was the cellar, which served as kitchen, dining area (beneath the prayer hall), and storeroom. In all there were probably forty rooms for the students, not including those added later in the cellar when a moat was dug to allow additional light and air into that dungeon.

As was the case with most of the colonial-era colleges in the United States, the primary objective at the College of New Jersey was to prepare men to enter the ministry. However, while most were affiliated with either Puritanism or Anglicanism, this school was Presbyterian in its theology. Up until Woodrow Wilson in the early 20th century, all of its college presidents were ministers, and during the colonial era this included Great Awakening leader Jonathan Edwards and Declaration of Independence signer John Witherspoon.

Edwards arrived here in 1758, only two years after Nassau Hall was completed, but he died just a month later, after receiving a smallpox inoculation. The next two presidents also died relatively young, but John Witherspoon became president in 1768, and remained here until his death in 1794. During this time, he was also involved in politics, including serving on the Continental Congress, and he was the only clergyman among those who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Aside from these two presidents, the school also had a number of prominent students throughout the 18th century. Future president James Madison graduated from here in 1771, and one of his classmates was future vice president Aaron Burr, grandson of Jonathan Edwards, who graduated a year later. Others included Joseph Hewes, Benjamin Rush, and Richard Stockton, all of whom signed the Declaration of Independence along with Witherspoon.

After the end of the Revolution, ten Princetonians participated in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, and five of them signed the Constitution: Gunning Bedford, David Brearley, Jonathan Dayton, James Madison, and William Paterson. Many other former Princeton students held other positions at the state and national level in the years during and immediately after the American Revolution. These included General Henry “Lighthorse Harry” Lee, who served as a cavalry officer in the Revolution and later as governor of Virginia, and Oliver Ellsworth, who served as the second Chief Justice of the United States.

However, it was not only Princeton’s students who played a role in the American Revolution; the school itself became a battleground during the Battle of Princeton on January 3, 1777. Prior to the battle, about 1,400 British soldiers were stationed in Princeton, and Nassau Hall was converted into barracks. During this time, the interior of the building was vandalized by the occupying army, and it was damaged even further during the battle itself. When Washington’s army advanced on Princeton, about 200 British soldiers took a defensive position inside of Nassau Hall, protected by the stone walls. However, the Continental Army opened fire on the building with cannons, and at least two cannonballs hit it before the British surrendered, effectively ending the battle.

Overall, the Battle of Princeton was a relatively small battle, but it helped to provide a much-needed morale boost for the Continental Army. Throughout the summer and fall of 1776, Washington had suffered a series of defeats as his army steadily retreated from New York City and across New Jersey. Thomas Paine famously described the situation as “the times that try men’s souls,” since many soldiers were deserting or not planning on re-enlisting after their enlistments expired on January 1, 1777. However, Washington’s surprise victory at Trenton on December 26, followed by Princeton a week later, helped to motivate soldiers to re-enlist and even inspired new recruits to join the army. Two years later, the Battle of Princeton was memorialized in Charles Willson Peale’s famous Washington at Princeton painting, depicting the commander in chief leaning against a cannon on the battlefield, with Nassau Hall visible in the distance on the left side of the painting.

Following the battle, Nassau Hall was occupied by the Continental Army throughout much of 1777, first as barracks and then as a hospital. This caused further damage to the interior, but at the end of the war the building took on a very different role when it temporarily became the capitol of the United States. Since 1775, Independence Hall in Philadelphia had been the meeting place of the Continental Congress. However, in 1783 a group of about 400 soldiers from the Continental Army marched on Independence Hall, demanding payment for their wartime service. Despite Congress’s requests, the Pennsylvania state government declined to use the militia to protect the building, so the Continental Congress left Philadelphia on June 21, and reconvened nine days later here at Princeton, in the second floor library of Nassau Hall.

Nassau Hall served as the capitol building for the next four months. During this time, on October 31, 1783, Congress was notified that British and American diplomats had signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the American Revolution. That same day, Congress also held a ceremony for diplomat Peter John van Berckel, who presented his credentials to Congress as the first Dutch ambassador to the United States. Van Berckel was apparently offended that his formal reception occurred in a small New Jersey town, rather than in Philadelphia as he had expected. However, he subsequently served as ambassador until 1788, and following the end of his term he continued to live in the United States for the rest of his life.

In any case, Congress did not remain in Princeton for much longer. It met here for the last time on November 4, 1783, and subsequently departed for Annapolis, where the Maryland State House functioned as the temporary national capitol. Congress would later return to the Princeton area, meeting in nearby Trenton for a little less than two months in late 1784 before moving to New York City in 1785. The capital city would then shift back to Philadelphia in 1790, before permanently moving to the newly-established city of Washington D.C. in 1800.

In the meantime, Nassau Hall continued to function as the home of the College of New Jersey throughout this time. However, on March 6, 1802 the building was completely gutted by a fire, leaving only the stone exterior walls still standing. The school soon began raising funds for its reconstruction, and among the donors were the citizens of Princeton, who feared that the school would use the opportunity to move out of the small town. For the work of rebuilding Nassau Hall, the school hired architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe, who is best known for having designed the United States Capitol in Washington. His plans for Nassau Hall were largely faithful to Robert Smith’s original design, and consisted of mostly minor stylistic changes. Perhaps the greatest difference was the roof, which was raised two feet higher than the original.

Thus restored, Nassau Hall would continue to be occupied by the school for the next half century, until another disastrous fire gutted it on March 10, 1855. This time, architect John Notman was responsible for the renovations, in the process making more drastic changes than Latrobe had. Inspired by Italianate-style architecture, which was popular at the time, Notman’s plans gave Nassau Hall more of a Renaissance appearance. Here on this side of the building, his design included a new arched doorway at the main entrance, and an arched window and balcony above it. Notman’s most significant alteration, though, was the addition of two Italianate towers, with one at each end of the building. The tower on the east side of the building is hidden behind the trees in the first photo, but the western tower is partially visible on the far right side of the scene.

The first photo was taken around 1903, and just two years later the tops of these towers were removed. Otherwise, though, the exterior of the building has not changed much since the 1855 reconstruction. However, the school’s use of Nassau Hall has evolved during this time. As Princeton added new buildings to its campus, Nassau Hall no longer needed to serve as an all-in-one building for dormitory rooms, classrooms, and offices. By 1924, the building was being used exclusively for administrative offices, including the offices of the university president, and it has been used for this purpose ever since.

Today, after surviving a Revolutionary War battle and two major fires, Nassau Hall still stands as an important part of the Princeton campus. It has been heavily altered, especially after the two fires, and the only original materials left in the building are the stone walls. Regardless, though, it remains one of the oldest college buildings in the country, and it is also important for its role in the Battle of Princeton and as the temporary capitol of the United States. Because of this, Nassau Hall was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Clio and Whig Halls, Princeton, New Jersey

Clio Hall and Whig Hall, on the campus of Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The American Whig–Cliosophic Society at Princeton is one of the most prominent collegiate debate organizations in the country. Its history traces back to the 1760s, and over the years its membership has included some of Princeton’s most distinguished graduates, including many of the Founding Fathers and two future U. S. president. The organization was originally two separate groups, the Whig and the Clio, and each had its own facility on campus. However, in 1928 the two were united as the Whig–Cliosophic Society, and it remains an active student-led organization here at Princeton.

The first photo, taken around 1903, shows the view looking east on Chapel Drive from near West College–now Morrison Hall–and Witherspoon Hall. On the left side of the scene is Cannon Green, and in the distant center is Marquand Chapel. On the right side of the scene are two identical buildings, which were completed in 1893 as the homes of the Whig and Clio societies. They were both designed by noted architect Arthur Page Brown, and their marble, Greek Revival-style exteriors evoke a sense of the philosophers and democratic ideals of classical antiquity. The building here in the foreground was Clio Hall, while the one further in the distance was Whig Hall.

About a decade after the first photo was taken, a young F. Scott Fitzgerald enrolled at Princeton, and during his time here he joined the Whig society. Fitzgerald never graduated, instead dropping out to join the Army during World War I, but his experiences at Princeton ultimately formed the basis of his first novel, This Side of Paradise. This book established Fitzgerald as the leading voice of the Jazz Age, and it even included a passing mention of Whig and Clio Halls, describing how the protagonist, Amory Blaine, “wanted to ramble through the shadowy scented lanes, where Witherspoon brooded like a dark mother over Whig and Clio, her Attic children.”

After the Whig and Clio organizations merged in 1928, the Whig–Cliosophic Society occupied Whig Hall, which it continues to use nearly a century later. During this time, the debate society has continued to have a number of prominent members, including Senators Claiborne Pell, Paul S. Sarbanes, and Ted Cruz, and U. S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. In the meantime, Clio Hall was put to other uses, and it is now the administrative offices of the Princeton Graduate School. Overall, this scene has remained largely unchanged since the first photo was taken, and the only significant difference is the Princeton University Chapel. It is barely visible in the distance, mostly hidden by trees, but it was built in 1928 to replace the earlier Marquand Chapel, which burned in 1920.

Presidents’ Row, Princeton, New Jersey

Presidents’ Row at Princeton Cemetery in Princeton, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

This section of Princeton Cemetery is located in the southwest corner of the cemetery, near the corner of Wiggins and Witherspoon Streets. It is sometimes referred to as Presidents’ Row, as it is the final resting place of many of Princeton’s early presidents. Among these, probably the most famous were Jonathan Edwards, the theologian and pastor who was one of the leaders of the Great Awakening, and John Witherspoon, who was the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence. In addition, U. S. Vice President Aaron Burr—who was both the son and grandson of Princeton presidents—is buried here, and his headstone stands in the center of this scene.

The graves of the former Princeton presidents are arranged roughly in order of when they served, beginning on the far right with Aaron Burr Sr. He was the second president of the college, following the brief tenure of John Dickinson in 1747, and he served until his death in 1757. He was then succeeded by his father-in-law, Jonathan Edwards, who had previously served as pastor of the church in Northampton, Massachusetts and then a missionary to Native Americans in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Edwards was also an influential author, and he was highly sought by the school’s trustees to replace Burr. Despite reservations about his abilities, Edwards accepted the position, and was installed as president on February 16, 1758.

However, Edwards’s time as president proved to be brief. He arrived in Princeton in the midst of a smallpox outbreak, and one of his first acts as president was to receive an inoculation, in order to encourage students to do the same. Ideally, the inoculation would give Edwards only a mild case of smallpox, which would then give him lifetime immunity. Instead, though, his condition only worsened, and he died on March 22, 1758, barely a month after becoming president. He was buried here in the cemetery, just to the left of Burr’s gravestone. Edwards’s daughter Esther, the widow of Aaron Burr Sr., had cared for him during his illness, and she subsequently contracted smallpox too, dying on April 7 at the age of 26. Her death left her two children orphaned, including the two-year-old future vice president. Edwards’s wife Sarah then briefly took custody of them, but she died later in 1758 from dysentery at the age of 48.

Neither of Edwards’s next two successors as president, Samuel Davies (served 1759-1761) and Samuel Finley (1761-1766), were president for a particularly long time, and both died relatively young. They are also buried here, with Davies on the left side of Edwards and Finley on the other side of Davies. It took the school several years to replace Finley, but in 1768 Scottish minister John Witherspoon accepted the position and immigrated to the American colonies. He went on to serve as pastor for more than 25 years, and during this time he was also involved in politics. He was a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress throughout most of the American Revolution, and in this role he signed both the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution. Witherspoon remained president of the college until his death in 1794, and he was buried here in the cemetery on the left side of Finley; his gravestone is the fifth from the right side of the row.

The next president after Witherspoon was Samuel Stanhope Smith, who served from 1795 until his resignation in 1812. He is buried beneath the table monument with the pillars, directly to the left of Witherspoon. Beyond Smith’s gravestone is Walter Minto, a mathematics professor who died in 1796. He is one of the few non-presidents who is buried in this plot. Then, beyond Minto’s grave on the far left side of the scene is Ashbel Green, who served as president from 1812 to 1822, and died in 1848. There are several more gravestones beyond Green, including college presidents James Carnahan and John Maclean, but these are in the distance beyond the frame of these photos.

Aside from the college presidents, the other noteworthy burial here is Aaron Burr, whose tall narrow headstone is very different from the flat tables of the presidents. As his headstone indicates, he served as a colonel in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and he was subsequently vice president from 1801 to 1805, during Thomas Jefferson’s first term. However, he is best remembered for having killed Alexander Hamilton, and his reputation was also marred by his involvement in a bizarre plot to establish an independent country in what is now the southwestern United States. He lived in poverty for much of his later life, before marrying a wealthy widow when he was 77. However, they separated for months later, and she subsequently divorced him. Appropriately enough, her lawyer in the case was Alexander Hamilton Jr. Burr died in a Staten Island boarding house in 1836 at the age of 80, and he was interred here next to his parents and grandparents.

The first photo was taken around 1903, more than a century after many of the burials in this scene. Some of the stones appear to have fared poorly over the years, particularly those of Jonathan Edwards and Aaron Burr Sr., both of which are heavily chipped. However, the gravestones appear to have been restored since then, because they are more intact in the present-day scene than they were in 1903. Overall, this section of the cemetery has seen few changes since the first photo was taken, and the only major different in the current photo is the Princeton Public Library, which now stands in the distance on the other side of Wiggins Street.

Old Dutch Church, Sleepy Hollow, New York

The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, around 1903. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The church in 2019:

This church was made famous by Washington Irving’s 1820 short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” but the building predates the story by more than a century, and it stands as the second-oldest existing church building in the state of New York. It was built in the late 1690s by Frederick Philipse I, a wealthy Dutch settler who owned a large tract of land along the Hudson River in Westchester County.

Philipse immigrated to New York in the 1650s, about a decade before England gained control of the colony from the Dutch. However, the Dutch landowners here were allowed to retain their property, and by the 1670s he had acquired a significant amount of land, including the modern-day municipalities of Yonkers, Greenburgh, and Mount Pleasant. At the time, there was a small community here in North Tarrytown, including a graveyard here on the left side of this scene. However, the people lacked a permanent church building, so in the late 1690s Philipse had this stone, Dutch Colonial-style church constructed at the southern end of the graveyard for his tenant farmers. By some accounts, Philipse designed the church himself, and he also may have personally assisted with the construction work, including carving the pulpit.

The church is located on the west side of the Albany Post Road, modern-day US Route 9, on a hillside about a hundred yards north of where the road crosses the Pocantico River. During the American Revolution, this area around Sleepy Hollow was a sort of neutral zone, located between British-occupied New York City and the areas to the north, which were controlled by the Continental Army.

One of the most important wartime incidents here occurred in 1780, when Major John André was captured by American forces less than a mile south of the church. He had been returning south after a secret meeting with Benedict Arnold, and upon searching him the Americans discovered documents that incriminated Arnold in a plot to surrender West Point to the British. Arnold was able to evade capture after the plot was exposed, but West Point remained secure and André was subsequently executed as a spy, since he had been behind enemy lines in civilian clothing.

Another significant local event in the war was the Battle of White Plains, which was fought a few miles to the southeast of here in 1776. During the battle, a Hessian soldier was decapitated by an American cannonball, and this is said to have been the inspiration for the Headless Horseman of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” In the story, the narrator describes how, according to legend, the ghostly apparition had lost his head in “some nameless battle” during the war. He was buried here in the graveyard next to this church in Sleepy Hollow, but he would leave every night and travel to the battlefield in search of his head, although he always needed to return to the graveyard by dawn.

By the time Washington Irving published his story in 1820, this church was already over 120 years old. In the story, he emphasized the eerie, isolated location of the church, particularly in this passage:

The sequestered situation of this church seems always to have made it a favorite haunt of troubled spirits. It stands on a knoll, surrounded by locust-trees and lofty elms, from among which its decent, whitewashed walls shine modestly forth, like Christian purity beaming through the shades of retirement. A gentle slope descends from it to a silver sheet of water, bordered by high trees, between which, peeps may be caught at the blue hills of the Hudson. To look upon its grass-grown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace. On one side of the church extends a wide woody dell, along which raves a large brook among broken rocks and trunks of fallen trees.

The first photo shows the church as it appeared nearly a century later, around 1903. By this point, both the church and its surroundings had undergone changes. The church was damaged by a fire after a lightning strike in 1837, and the repairs included alterations to the building. It was partially restored to its original appearance in the late 19th century, but by then it was no longer in regular use. The congregation had moved to a new building in Tarrytown during the mid-19th century, and the old one here in Sleepy Hollow was subsequently used only for special events.

Also during this period, the land around the church became a new cemetery. Originally named the Tarrytown Cemetery, it was later renamed Sleepy Hollow Cemetery at the request of Washington Irving, who was interred here after his death in 1859. Unlike the much older graveyard next to the church, this new cemetery reflected the mid-19th century trend of rural cemeteries. These were typically well-landscaped, with plenty of trees and winding footpaths that followed the contours of the ground, making cemeteries feel more like a park. Aside from Irving, many other prominent people have been buried here in Sleepy Hollow, including industrialist Andrew Carnegie after his death in 1919.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, the 320-year-old church is still standing here alongside US Route 9. Remarkably little has changed in the scene during this time, and the building is still owned by the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns, which continues to hold events and services here on occasion. Because of its historical significance, along with its literary associations with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” the church was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

Washington Irving Grave, Sleepy Hollow, New York

The gravesite of Washington Irving in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2019:

Washington Irving was the first widely-successful American fiction writer, best known for his short stories such as “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” His lifetime coincided with the early years of the country; he was born in New York City in 1783, just months before the Treaty of Paris, and he died in 1859, less than a year and a half before the start of the Civil War. Throughout this time, he published many works, including short story collections, biographies, and histories. He served in the War of 1812, as recognized by the flag next to his headstone, and many years later he served as the US minister to Spain during the John Tyler administration, from 1842 to 1846.

Although he grew up in New York City, and spent a number of years in Europe, Irving spent much of his later life in the vicinity of Sleepy Hollow. In 1835 he purchased Sunnyside, his estate in nearby Tarrytown. With the exception of his time in Spain, it was his home for the rest of his life, and after his death he was buried here in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The cemetery is located directly adjacent to the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow and its churchyard, both of which Irving featured in his “Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Washington Irving never married, and he had no children, but he is interred here in the cemetery with a number of other family members. When the first photo was taken in the early 20th century, these included his parents William Irving and Sarah Sanders immediately to the left of his gravestone, and his brother Ebenezer Irving and Ebenezer’s wife Elizabeth Kip to the right.

In the second row of the first photo, starting on the left, is Lewis Irving, the grandson of Washington Irving’s older brother William. Further to the right in the second row are Mary and Julia Irving, who were daughters of Ebenezer and Elizabeth Irving. On the far right is William R. Grinnell, the husband of Mary and Julia’s sister Charlotte. The two rounded headstones in the back row are Julia Granger and her husband Sanders Irving, and to the right are Amanda Tenant and her husband Edgar Irving. Both Sanders and Edgar were sons of Ebenezer and Elizabeth. There is also a flag in the back row, which might be a temporary marker for Washington Irving, the son of Edgar and Amanda, who died in 1910. The first photo was taken around this time, so it may have been taken after he died but before a permanent stone was installed.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, much of this scene has remained the same; even the pine tree in the background appears to be the same one in both photos. However, the headstones are significantly more weathered than they had been in the early 20th century, and there have been several more interments here in the Irving family plot. Immediately behind and to the right of Washington Irving’s headstone is Catherine Irving, the last surviving child of Ebenezer and Elizabeth, who died in 1911 at the age of 95.

In the back row is the headstone of the younger Washington Irving, in the place of the flag from the first photo. Further to the left in the back row is his sister, Mary Irving Huntington. She died in 1932 at the age of 82, and hers is the most recent headstone in this scene. She was ten years old when her famous great uncle died in 1859, so she may have been the last living member of the family who would have had memories of Washington Irving.