Headless Horseman Blog

About historic Sleepy Hollow and its environs…

Category: Hudson River

Captain Mackenzie’s Sleepy Hollow Home

By Henry John Steiner

 Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York

Talented, well connected, intelligent, mild, affable, diligent, pious, and, above all—controversial.   All these things could be said of the man whose order inspired Billy Budd, the dark, short masterpiece of American literary giant, Herman Melville. Commander Alexander Slidell Mackenzie was born in New York City and began his naval career before he was twelve years old. During the last eight years of his life, 1840-1848, he made his home at the northern limits of Sleepy Hollow. Today that place is called Rockwood Hall or Rockwood.


Mackenzie the Writer

Mackenzie was a productive writer and an accomplished naval officer. His literary friends included Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and James Fennimore Cooper (until Mackenzie and Cooper fell out). A few hundred yards to the south of Mackenzie’s Sleepy Hollow farm was the estate of the wealthy and influential newspaperman, James Watson Webb—a place that was once called Pokahoe, or later, the Fremont estate. Ocean-going writer, Richard Henry Dana, the author of Two Years Before the Mast, was another literary acquaintance of the commander. Mackenzie’s second in command at the most critical moment of his career was Guert Gansevoort—the cousin of American novelist Herman Melville—author of what many scholars believe to be the “Great American Novel,” Moby Dick.

Washington Irving in later years

Washington Irving in later years

It was in Spain between 1826 and 1827 that Mackenzie began close friendships with Washington Irving and American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. With Irving, Mackenzie discussed the notion of turning his personal journal of Spain into a first book. Irving endorsed the idea and the result was A Year in Spain (1829). Irving would generously assist the younger author in producing a successful London edition of the book. America’s leading author of that age actually took pen in hand to make stylistic improvements to Mackenzie’s manuscript. Irving wrote to his friend that these changes were “petty corrections which will be of service to you hereafter in point of style.” The unselfish Washington Irving, acting as a copy editor! But Irving had already garnered a service from his friend; Mackenzie, then a lieutenant in the U. S. Navy, had provided Irving with valuable nautical information to be used in an ambitious biography of Christopher Columbus.

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Open Houses at the Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse

Open Houses at the Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse in 2019

Bring your questions to discuss with Sleepy Hollow Village Historian, Henry John Steiner. He will be glad to discuss the lighthouse, or any other aspect of Sleepy Hollow history.

Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse

Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse


April – August 2019

April 7 & 28, 1-3PM

May 5 & 19 1-3PM

June 2 & 16 1-3PM

July  7 & 21  1-3PM

August 4 & 18 1-3PM


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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

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“I believe it was the very peculiarity of the name…”

The Mill Dam at Philipsburg, Sleepy Hollow

“I believe it was the very peculiarity of the name, and the idea of something mystic and dreamy connected with it, that first led me, in my boyish ramblings, into Sleepy Hollow.  The character of the valley seemed to answer to the name; the slumber of past ages apparently reigned over it; it had not awakened to the stir of improvement, which had put all the rest of the world in a bustle.  Here reigned good old long-forgotten fashions; the men were in homespun garbs, evidently the product of their own farms, and the manufacture of their own wives; the women were in primitive short gowns and petticoats, with the venerable sun-bonnets of Holland origin.  The lower part of the valley was cut up into small farms, each consisting of a little meadow and corn-field; an orchard of sprawling, gnarled apple trees, and a garden, where the rose, the marigold, and the hollyhock were permitted to skirt the domains of the capacious cabbage, the aspiring pea, and the portly pumpkin.  Each had its prolific little mansion, teeming with children; with an old hat nailed against the wall for the house-keeping wren; a motherly hen, under a coop on the grass-plot, clucking to keep around her a brood of vagrant chickens; a cool stone well, with the moss-covered bucket suspended to the long balancing pole, according to the antediluvian idea of hydraulics; and its spinning-wheel humming within doors, the patriarchal music of home manufacture….”

–Washington Irving


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