By Henry John Steiner
Historian of Sleepy Hollow, New York
So, after describing a couple of places in Irvington and Tarrytown, it’s time for me to turn to Sleepy Hollow…
I would have a personal connection with this place if only because it offered me a convenient escape to tranquility and solitude. Today at the old dam, you will no longer hear the crank and sputter of the vanished millwheel; the Lister brothers ran a “bone and button” mill here in the nineteenth century. Nor will one hear the huff and chug of the Pocantico Tool & Die Works, the second mill that occupied this site, in the late 1800s. Nor will you hear the shouts and splashes of the Webber Park neighbors who plunged into the now vanished millpond on a hot summer day. It is a place that has been returned to nature, dedicated to the sound, sight, taste, and feel of a historic trout stream and its legendary valley.
In the cemetery, two-tenths of a mile up from the cemetery’s south gate, is the sloped path—a sod-covered access road—leading down to the Pocantico River. You could walk or drive by the path for many years without thinking to walk down it. When I was last there, dry leaves littered the way, and the path was blocked by a fallen tree – not hard to circumvent. As you make you way down toward the stream you see the remains of the old dam. I still try to conjure up the image of the small millpond that once stood behind that antique ruin.
As I glance about, I see the remains of my own efforts from years ago, when, with my team of “rock rollers,” we sought to “improve” the river as a trout habitat. At this place our rock dams were mostly swept aside by the force of the river at full flood. I remember those who helped in those projects, among them, my sons John and Alex, and John’s best friend, Dorian Lopez, the wonderful boy who left us all-too-soon. With us in those days were Jim Weaver and Eddie Keegan, expert fly fishermen who once loved playing cat-and-mouse with the trout. Would that we could see them on the stream again…
There is no pool here today, but I can still recollect the brown trout that I played on this spot—on special days when I was the only angler to be seen on this “beat” of the stream. Across the river lie the remains of the 19th century sluice gate. In the past I would see an old millstone and metal fittings scattered sparsely about on the shore.
During a spring visit there, the water was high and surging, amplified by snowmelt and rainstorms. The sound of the stream was a sustained crash, its animation contrasting with the tranquil surrounding landscape. On the southeast side of the stream is the steep slope of Douglas Park; the leafless trunks of the standing trees leaned forward like sleepwalkers drifting down the hill toward the stream. Many fallen trees take their undisturbed rest on the slope. On the northwest side is the steep slope of the cemetery. Downstream, you can see some houses on Dell Street. Upstream stretches more of the wooded river valley of the Pocantico—Sleepy Hollow. I see a thick, threaded, wrought iron bar lying at the water’s edge. Can it be part of the sluice gate apparatus from so long ago? The two ends of the dam are still standing, suggesting what once was the whole.
The aspect of the place now is quite different from its summertime personality, when the current slows to a crawl and the sound of the brook is lighter and more musical. Then, the stream invites one to listen more closely.
So that is a short list of my not-too-far-out-of-the-way places. Another person might go to one of these places and say, “What’s the big deal?” but this is my list of favorites. I hope you will get a chance to visit them and maybe enjoy them as much or more than I do.
©2011-2016 Henry John Steiner