By Henry John Steiner
Historian of Sleepy Hollow
Many years ago, during the 1980s, I would occasionally take my lunch hour at the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library. What attracted me to the “Main Branch” was its impressive map division, located in the bowels of the enormous library, which one could access on the 42nd Street side. As conscious as I was of its riches, I was acutely aware that I really did not know how to properly access its resources. I would “fish” through the catalogue searching for intriguing maps relating to the history of Sleepy Hollow or Tarrytown, but, all in all, my process was pretty much hit-or-miss.
My allotted lunchtime would often be gone before I could hit on something especially interesting. Walking up the service counter, I would submit my request and wait with my fingers crossed, counting the minutes until my order materialized—or until I got word that it could not be found. The sands of time drifted away, and, if I was lucky, I would be called to pick up my selection. A quirk of the process was that a successful search for a promising map was not necessarily repeatable. A cartographic gem plucked from the labyrinth of the map department might simply be misplaced in the collection once I returned it. Depending on who behind the counter put it away and who was called upon to produce it once more—I might not see it again. “Sorry, it seems to be temporarily missing.” I acquired a touch of gambler’s exhilaration when I could actually access the same item twice.
Once I had been called up to pick up a given map, I would stare at it long enough to determine if it seemed to offered the same level promise I had seen when examining the catalogue entry. If so, I would find a place among the other researchers and discretely draw my Nikon from my raincoat pocket. I kept the camera loaded with a “fast” Ektachrome film and the “fastest” lens I owned. No flash. I would shoot the map, pack up my gear, and head for the 42nd Street exit. After this exercise was complete, I would arrive back at work only about an hour late.
There was something that drove me to it. Curiosity—a sense of mission—a delight in retrieving the past—the thrill of exploration? Only, instead of landing on a foreign shore and driving forward, I was paddling backward into our local history. Today it can be much easier to search the NYPL map collection.
The map shown here was the product of one such excursion. Finding it in the collection was well worth the effort. I recall it came from an old and fragile pocket atlas for travelers of the Albany Post Road; although, in 1820, it may have also been useful to sloop and steamboat travelers on the Hudson River. For multiple reasons it is full of interest respecting our community.
First, it is a graphic representation of our community during an era that is not particularly rich in cartographic evidence. My collection of local map photocopies becomes rather sparse in the 1795 to 1835 timeframe.
Second, the map was published late in 1820. In the beginning of that year, Washington Irving’s story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” appeared for the first time in the United States. Goodrich’s pocket atlas containing the map was published in the fall of that year. And, coincidentally, the place name “Sleepy Hollow” is correctly shown on the map in the river valley of the Pocantico. This detail is of particular interest to local antiquarians.
Third, another detail is the name “B. Swartwout,” which is found on the map south of Main Street. Some of us may have the impression that James Benedict (after whom Benedict Avenue is named) was the first affluent merchant to turn a local farm into an “estate.” But it was actually, soldier-of-the-Revolution, Bernardus Swartwout, who anticipated Benedict’s design by purchasing a 282-acre Tarrytown farm in January of 1815. He enjoyed it for only nine years before dying in 1824. Two years afterward, the executors of his estate sold the land to James Benedict. Army veteran Swartwout made his money in the New York City grocery business and Benedict made his fortune in the New York City hat business.
Fourth, the map indicates both the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow and the old Philipse Manor House (Philipse Castle) at Philipsburgh, two landmarks that have not moved from their original locations and serve as reliable reference points. Note that the manor house is labeled on the map with the name “Gd. Beekman,” who was the owner at that time. Also shown is the mill pond at Philipsburgh.
Fifth, of particular interest is the building labeled “academy” near the capture site of Major John André. André was the Adjutant-General of the British Army in North America at the time of the Revolutionary War, and he was captured, in disguise, at the modern border between Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown—a very important event in local history and national history.
The general histories of our community mention that there was a nineteenth-century school just north of André Brook. The academy was a private boy’s school. It went by a number of different names depending on the exact period—Mr. Newman’s Military Academy, Newman’s Institute, and The Tarrytown Institute. The earliest date given for the school in local histories is generally no earlier than 1850, but, with this map, there is good reason to believe that it was in operation much earlier. Indeed, there is another source that support’s this view—the testimony of Isaac Van Wart, one of the captors of Major André. Van Wart, in relating his account of the capture in 1826, told that he saw André riding slowly up the rise to the point where the three captors were on guard. When he spoke of first seeing André, he said the rider was about even with the academy building.
Reflecting on these circumstances we must ask the following question. Was the academy always in the same building? For it appears that the academy was always in roughly the same location. A piece of graphic evidence that may help us to get a visual idea of the building is an 1853 illustration in Gleason’s Gazette. The illustration also gives us a good idea of its location in relation to the original Captors’ Monument, 1853.
Finally, with respect to the map, there are some obvious inaccuracies in it. The map omits Kingsland Point—the substantial peninsula does not appear on it. In those days Kingsland Point would have been known as Beekman’s Point, and prior to that—Pugley’s Point and Philipse Point. Also missing is the broad bay that lay within the point, “Slapers Haven” aka The Sleepers Harbor or Pocantico Bay. This bay lay at the mouth of the Pocantico River. Also missing from the map is Tarrytown Point—and its bay, Tarrytown Bay. Another feature on the map is a mysterious stream shown just north of the academy which may represent the nameless small stream that still exists (but a bit further north), rising from the hill above Pine Street in Webber Park and running down the hill, crossing underneath New Broadway. It then continues underground crossing beneath Route 9 and on underground into the Mill Pond.
So those are some impressions of this “old friend,” an 1820 map. In closing, I should mention that the map can now be accessed in the digital collections of the New York Public Library. What I would not have given back in the old days to consult the historic maps of our locale so easily!
[Copyright © 2017 Henry John Steiner]