Artist in Residence: Robert Havell

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

 If today you started out from Main Street in Tarrytown and headed north along Broadway (Route 9), you would pass the now vacant carpet shop of T. F Andrews. The shop sits at the corner of Dixon Street where the road intersects with Broadway. Traveling further north you would come to the Warner Library. Then, continuing on a few blocks, you would pass Immaculate Conception Catholic Church at College Avenue in Sleepy Hollow. If you strolled a mile further, you would come to the office of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and not far from that building is the grave of Robert Havell, an artist of the Hudson River School.

Havell lived the last years of his life in a house near the corner of Dixon Street. He took leisurely walks to the church at the corner of College Avenue (then called Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church). Two fine examples of his artistry and craftsmanship hang prominently in the Warner Library. His mortal remains lie undisturbed and virtually unnoted in the cemetery.

If, on a Sunday in the 1870s, you took the same route along Broadway, you might have seen an elderly couple strolling toward the church just mentioned. Robert and Amelia Havell were from England, and Robert had made his reputation and his fortune as an artist.

Born in Reading, England, about forty miles west of London, Robert Havell, Jr., was the son of an engraver and publisher, who in turn was the son of an engraver and publisher. Entering his father’s business at an early age, Robert learned the artistry and technology of aquatint and the business of publishing.


Havell as an elderly man

Sometime before 1825 he married Amelia Jane Edington, fifteen years his junior. That year his first child, Amelia, was born. Two years later Robert Havell had a fateful meeting with American artist and ornithologist, John James Audubon (1785-1851). The Englishman became the chief engraver and colorist of Audubon’s The Birds of North America. This was a monumental work of 500 plates produced in eleven years and published in a renowned “elephant folio” selling at $1000 per copy.

The work determined the fame and fortunes of both Audubon and Havell, and Audubon’s letters proclaim his admiration for Havell’s contribution. He presented a silver loving cup to his talented engraver inscribed, “To Robert Havell from his friend J.J.A. 1834.” That was seven years after Havell had named his first son Robert Audubon Havell. The boy died by the age of two. In 1832, Havell’s father died, and the son dropped the “Jr.,” from his name. Robert and Amelia buried their second son in 1838, and the following year, at the prompting of Audubon, the couple set sail for New York with their daughter Amelia.

As an artist, Havell’s medium while in England was watercolor; upon arriving in the United States and being introduced to the majestic scenery of the Hudson River Valley, he began to paint in oils. Havell, his wife Amelia Jane, and their daughter, Amelia Jane, made painting excursions along the Hudson in a covered wagon—not a matter of necessity—but as a way of more closely observing the river and its scenery. Havell’s American landscapes were to earn him a place among the artists of the Hudson River School.   View of the Hudson From Tarrytown Heights is a fine example of his work. An original Havell is in the collection of the Ossining Historical Society.

havell-painting2-no frame

View of the Hudson by Havell

 One day, in 1841, the Havell family chanced on a land auction at Sing Sing—today’s Ossining—and made a casual offer on a lot overlooking the river. They had already started down the Albany Post Road when the auctioneer’s messenger overtook them. The land was theirs.


The Havell home in Ossining

 Havell demonstrated the strength of his pocketbook by engaging in a string of Ossining land purchases during the next sixteen years. In time he became a respected member of that community. In recent years his home was torn down to make way for the Havell Street Development near Dale Cemetery.

While living in Ossining, Robert and Amelia Havell had another child, Marianna, born in 1847. The girl was twenty-two years younger than her sister Amelia. That year Robert joined the American Art Union and helped to raise foreign funds for the organization. Marianna was ten when the Havells moved to Tarrytown in 1857.

In 1864, Havell’s daughter Amelia married a widower, Munson Ingersoll Lockwood, at Tarrytown. General Lockwood was a commander of the New York State militia and said to be the superintendent of a military school on Beekman Avenue in Sleepy Hollow, presumably Jackson Military Institute. Lockwood had six nearly grown children by his first marriage, and, with Amelia, he fathered Robert Havell Lockwood, born in Sing Sing in 1868. Munson Lockwood died in Ossining in 1875 and was probably buried at Dale Cemetery, near his first wife.

By 1864 Robert Havell had begun to invest in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown real estate. In 1870, he owned land south of Elm Street in Sleepy Hollow, a building near the corner of Kaldenburg and Main in Tarrytown, and a house near the corner of Wildey and Washington Streets backing onto Storm Street where he was living by 1866.   It is tempting to speculate on whether Havell made the acquaintance of Paul R. B. Pierson, a skilled American engraver (and father of Tarrytown mayor Frank Romer Pierson) who lived less than two blocks away. Havell became a leader in the construction of St. Mark’s Washington Irving Memorial Church in 1865 and undoubtedly attended its first services in 1868.


Site of the Havell’s last Tarrytown home

By the 1870s the Havells had built a substantial home and studio on Broadway opposite McKeel Avenue. Robert was by then a senior warden of St. Mark’s Church in Sleepy Hollow. His wife died of “paralysis” in July of 1878, and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery records note that Robert died of “old age” in November of that year. Later on Havell’s daughters would be laid to rest in the Havell plot at Sleepy Hollow, as was his grandson, Robert Havell Lockwood and his wife.


Havell grave at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery


©2003-2016 Henry John Steiner



Amelia Havell, art, Audubon, Dale Cemetery, Havell, Henry John Steiner, history, Hudson River, Hudson River School, Hudson River Valley, Lockwood, Ossining, Pierson, Reading, Robert Audubon Havell, Robert Havell Lockwood, Sing Sing, sleepy hollow, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery  Tarrytown, The Birds of North American,Warner Library

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  1. This from my our friend Ed (NTHS class of ’45), a retired USMC colonel now living out west: “I had no knowledge that the Pierson Florist family had an engraver in their family. I remember they were also related to the Kedrich family in the Manor through marriage when I was a youth. After Pierson’s sold the Broadway Flower Shop, or lost it to the bank that is in it , I used to visit it often and in those days I smoked cigars. Betsy used to scold me as I frequently would leave my cigar butts in the mouths of Stone Lions there. They may still be there guarding the walkway. I have such wonderful memories of life back there. Cheers.”

  2. Brian Spaeth

    Great post, Henry!
    I wasn’t familiar with Havell’s work—”View of the Hudson” is gorgeous, and the drawing is nice also. His connection with Audubon is very interesting. Next time I’m in the library I’m gonna look for his work.

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