Tag: headless horseman

Andre’s Tree – The Vanished Landmark

Henry John Steiner

Historian of Sleepy Hollow

I wrote the following piece many years ago, prodded by the knowledge that Andre’s Tree was a real, historic  – though now extinct – landmark.  My researches in local history taught me that many well-intentioned writers of the 19th and 20th centuries had, through ignorance and misinterpretation, consigned this important landmark to mythological status…

Major John Andre

Major John Andre

Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown once had an impressive, living landmark which stood near what is today the border of the two villages.  André’s Tree was an ancient, enormous tulip or white-wood tree which towered over the Post Road until 1801.  According to Washington Irving’s friend, James K. Paulding, it stood “About half a quarter of a mile south of Clark’s Kill bridge, on the high-road….”  In other words, it stood roughly where Broadway passes Warner Library today.

Where Andre's Tree once stood—near the parking lot entry to Warner Library, Tarrytown

Where Andre’s Tree once stood—near the parking lot entry to Warner Library, Tarrytown

The American Citizen newspaper of August 25, 1801, reported that the tree was destroyed by lightning on Saturday, July 21, 1801.  It measured 29 feet around at the base, 111 feet in height, 106 feet in diameter at the crown.  Some local folk preserved pieces of the tree as keepsakes.  The newspaper also recorded that the lightening strike was said to have occurred on the day that news of Benedict Arnold’s death in England arrived at Tarrytown.

A cluster of tulip trees in the Sleepy Hollow section of Patriots' Park, about 300 yards from where Andre's Tree once stood

A cluster of tulip trees in the Sleepy Hollow section of Patriots’ Park, about 300 yards from where Andre’s Tree once stood

As the name suggests, the tree is associated with the momentous capture of the British spy, Major John André, and, indeed, there is a tradition that André was either stopped or searched directly under the tree.  However, the actual capture site lay at the intersection of André Brook and the Albany Post Road, approximately two hundred yards to the north. 


Patriots' Park tulip tree leaves

Patriots’ Park tulip tree leaves

On another score, General Jacob Odell recalled that the tree served as an enlistment station for patriots of the vicinity during the spring of 1776.  He and three cousins from the Irvington area, rode or walked up the Post Road to enlist with the local militia in the June of 1776.


The tree is associated with several spurious traditions too, among them:

  • That Major André was hanged at the tree
  • That the tree was destroyed upon receipt of the news of André’s death in Tappan
  • That the tree stood along André Brook.

The name, “Major André’s tree,” appears in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1819).  Washington Irving described the tree from first-hand observations made roughly twenty years earlier.  It is not clear when the tree was first given the name, André’s Tree, but the name appears to have originated after the destruction of the tree itself.  A remarkable feature of the tree is that it stood, literally, in the middle of the road.  That is, the road split to either side of the tree, a unique circumstance even in that day.

A tulip tree in Patriots' Park, Sleepy Hollow

A tulip tree in Patriots’ Park, Sleepy Hollow

The extensive description of the tree in the “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” may be well worth revisiting.  “Many dismal tales were told about funeral trains, and mourning cries and wailings heard and seen about the great tree where the unfortunate André was taken.”  Irving goes on, “The common people regarded it with a mixture of respect and superstition, partly out of sympathy for the fate of its ill-starred namesake, and partly from the tales of strange sights and doleful lamentations told concerning it.”  The narrator of the story refers to it as a”fearful tree.”

Christopher Coles mislabeled Andre's Tree an oak in his 1789 survey.

Christopher Coles mislabeled Andre’s Tree an oak in his 1789 survey.

When he was writing the story in 1819, Irving may have been unaware that the tree had been destroyed by lightning nearly twenty years earlier.  If he was accurately describing the tree from his own youthful observations, André’s Tree had been the target of earlier lightning strikes:  “As he approached a little nearer, he thought he saw something white, hanging in the midst of the tree—he paused and ceased whistling, but on looking more narrowly, he perceived that it was a place where the tree had been scathed by lightning, and the white wood laid bare.”

It appears that the tree continued to serve as a convenient reference point even after it was gone.  In 1845 a local Revolutionary War veteran, Samuel Lyon, recalled that he was in a detachment chasing enemy loyalist troops on September 4, 1781, when he observed the enemy troopers, “near André’s great white wood tree.”  Lyon had seen them from the hill above the Old Dutch Church, but the enemy slipped away before he and his comrades could attack them.

The twentieth century nearly banished André’s Tree to the realm of myth.  It was, however, a real, living and unique landmark coloring the life and traditions of this community in its earliest days, and even a monument of purely Native American times.  A great part of what the tree really was, lives on.  It’s image is stamped in the pages of one of America’s great works of fiction.

Copyright  2012, 2019 Henry John Steiner

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The Old Dam—Sleepy Hollow, Part III Favorite Places

Sticky post

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.

“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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