Barbara & Stu's Excellent Vacations Great trips we have taken



In July Stu and I celebrated his birthday with a weekend visit to Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, NY, located on the eastern bank of the Hudson River about 25 miles north of New York City. We had limited time and wanted to visit someplace interesting within an hour’s drive, so a jaunt to Westchester fit the bill perfectly, leaving after work on Friday and returning home Sunday evening.  Tarrytown overlooks a wide, scenic stretch of the Hudson known as the Tappan Zee (Tappan after a local Indian tribe; Zee the Dutch word for sea), which is currently spanned by its eponymous bridge (completed in 1955), the longest in the state of New York.  Although the true origin of the town name is unknown, Washington Irving’s anecdote about housewives dubbing it Tarry Town because of their husbands’ habit of tarrying at the local watering holes when visiting town on business makes a colorful story.  Although its first residence was documented in 1645, the village wasn’t officially incorporated until 1870 and it was in 1874 that North Tarrytown was rechristened Sleepy Hollow, a tribute to Washington Irving’s macabre tale The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Prior to European settlement the Weckquaesgeek Indians, relatives of the Mohicans, resided in this area and the river was called Muhheakunnuk (water that moves both ways).  When English explorer Henry Hudson navigated the river that now bears his name on behalf of the Dutch East India Company in 1609 he opened the Hudson River valley to Dutch farmers, fur trappers and fishermen.   Although the British subsequently gained control of the area prior to the Revolutionary War, the Dutch influence is still evident to this day, particularly in the Philipsburg Manor, a small remainder of what was once the vast landholdings of affluent Dutch businessman, Frederick Philipse; the Old Dutch Church built by Philipse in 1697 with its adjacent Burying Ground; Sleepy Hollow Cemetery; and the Dutch farmhouse on the river built in 1656 that was bought and remodelled by renowned author Washington Irving in 1835 and renamed Sunnyside. Irving’s writings about this area are widely and deservedly celebrated, but if you want to read an exceptional contemporary novel about the area that combines historical detail with a spellbinding story that intriguingly interweaves the old Dutch past and modern times, try T.Coraghessan Boyle’s World’s End.

Tarrytown was neutral ground during the Revolutionary War, caught between British forces to the south and Americans to the north, but it played a pivotal role in the outcome of the war with the capture and hanging of the British spy Major John Andre in 1780.   Infamous traitor Benedict Arnold had given Andre stolen plans of West Point’s fortifications that he secreted in his boot and was carrying to the British when he was apprehended by American militiamen.

Much of the industry of the town grew up around Philipse’s mill and its role as a thriving river port, but the extension of the railroad through the town in 1849 soon attracted more manufacturing and business development. In 1886 William Rockefeller built an estate there, followed by John D. Rockefeller, Sr. in 1893, and by the turn of the century, Tarrytown became known as “Millionaire’s Colony” with more than 65 mansions and a great concentration of wealth.  It was close enough to Manhattan to be reached fairly easily by train or boat and bucolic enough for a summer home to escape the rigor of the city.  In 1900, General Howard Carroll built Carrollcliffe estate in the style of a Tudor castle on a bluff overlooking the river.  This has been transformed into The Castle on the Hudson, the beautiful hotel in which we spent this weekend.  But it is Kykuit, the Rockefeller mansion built by John D. in 1902 that is the most popular of the many surviving estates.  The Tarrytown Music Hall, built in 1885, and gracing the main drag in town, continues to host musical performers and is renowned for its fine acoustics.  Though we did not have an opportunity to attend a performance there, our friends confirm that it’s an excellent concert venue.


There’s so much to do in this area that we had to carefully plan our itinerary in order to take advantage of as much as we could. The weather was quite hot and we still had some time to cool off by the hotel pool late Saturday afternoon.


Kykuit - I had ordered tickets on-line in advance for the first Grand Tour of the day on Saturday at Kykuit, the Rockefeller mansion.  I highly recommend booking in advance since the tours are often fully booked.  We picked up the tickets at Philipsburg Manor and our group was bused to the estate for a comprehensive tour of the main house, grounds and carriage house.  Kykuit, which means lookout in Afrikaans, sits on a high perch in Pocantico Hills with magnificent views of its own exquisite grounds and the Hudson River.  On the way to the mansion, we passed an outbuilding larger than the mansion itself that served as the Rockefeller children’s playhouse.  It is still used by the family for recreation, and is unfortunately off-limits on the tour.  It includes tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, a nine-hole golf course, bowling alley, billiards room, basketball and squash courts, and all kinds of sports equipment and games.  If you’re a Rockefeller you can afford a whole country club in your own backyard.  However, compared to the wholly over-the-top extravagance of the mansions in Newport RI, Kykuit is merely opulent.  The Rockefeller family’s love of modern art is evident with an extensive collection of outdoor sculptures and a basement art gallery that would turn many collectors green with envy.  Not to mention the antiquities, paintings, sculptures and assorted objets d’art that decorate the rooms and hallways.  The history of the family is as interesting as the mansion and the tour was engrossing.  I could write pages about the magnificent rooms, fountains, pavilions and gardens, but perhaps our favorite feature was the carriage house, which showcased stable equipment as well as perfectly maintained carriages and vintage automobiles used by the family.  I especially admired a handsome old horse-drawn sleigh complete with fur blankets and silver bells.

We would have liked to tour Philipsburg Manor with its quaint mill and farm buildings, but there was a special children’s program in effect this weekend, so we left that for a future visit.

The Old Dutch Church (1697) 1685; Rte. 9 - a charming, petite and relatively austere wood and stone chapel with a small adjacent graveyard featuring ancient gravestones commemorating the early residents of the area.  A scary sculpture of the Headless Horseman in full gallop can be found nearby.

The Sleepy Hollow Cemeterynext door to the Old Dutch Church Burial Ground, though not part of it, the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery sprawls over 90 acres of well-tended and scenic landscape hosting many famous figures among its eternal residents.  We found an enclosed section dedicated to the Van Tassel clan, who inspired the character of Katrina Van Tassell in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, as well as the Irving family plot, where Washington Irving lies beneath a headstone far more modest than his celebrity warrants.  Industrialists such as William Avery Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Harry Helmsley and Walter Chrysler are interred in monumental marble tombs, testaments to their outsized egos.  There were also large and moving memorials to the soldiers of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  Within the cemetery is the infamous wooden bridge over the Pocantico River where Irving’s Headless Horseman ruthlessly pursued Ichabod Crane.

Sunnyside West Sunnyside Lane off Rte. 9 Irvington – the Dutch farm on prime riverfront property that Washington Irving purchased in 1835, restored, and maintained for 24 years until his death, is now a museum dedicated to his memory.  Though still well known for tales of Sleepy Hollow and Rip van Winkle, Irving achieved major success in his lifetime and was among the first American authors to enjoy widespread fame in Europe. He struck up an epistolary acquaintance with Charles Dickens, who was among the illustrious visitors whom Irving hosted at Sunnyside.  He was well-travelled, living abroad in Madrid and in London serving the American Secretary and he was later appointed Minister to Spain.  His cosy study reflects the studiousness of a writer and includes a small sleeping nook where he could take a refreshing nap in the midst of his labor.   Irving’s history, the charm of the property and our well-informed guide made for a very enjoyable tour.  On the main road just outside the road that you take to the house, there is a bronze bust of a young handsome Irving along with representations of two characters from his fanciful tales, old Rip and Boabdil.

The Union Church of Pocantico Hills off Bedford Rd – the Rockefellers were devoutly religious and in addition to building the glorious Riverside Church in Manhattan, modelled after a Gothic cathedral, Nelson sponsored this intimate non-denominational chapel with its square stone bell tower to commemorate his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.  What distinguishes it from other small country churches are a full set of vivid stained glass windows designed by Marc Chagall and the modernist rose window by Henri Matisse.  Our guide explained how each of the side windows is dedicated to a Rockefeller family member with a theme that has special meaning and associations for them, for example, the Good Samaritan window dedicated to John D.  She also told us that Matisse was dying but still delivered his commission in honor of the family that had been such committed patrons of his work. 

Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse – in the early evening we took a short drive to Kingsland Point Park, a grassy expanse of land bordering the Hudson, with a playground, ball playing fields, picnic tables and knockout views of the Palisades.  Our main objective was to snatch a view of Sleepy Hollow Lighthouse (1883), a somewhat squat but pleasing sparkplug beacon, white with a red base near the foot of the Tappan Zee Bridge.  Tours of the lighthouse are available but we didn’t have sufficient time to arrange for one.

Tarrytown – the main street of Tarrytown is adorable without being overly twee.  There are several good restaurants and cafés as well as stores, crafts shops, art galleries and the music hall.  We stopped in a small gallery with an interesting and eclectic collection where the owner was working on an oil portrait of a lovely young woman who was modelling for her, though both were happy to chat with us while she worked. We especially admired the fabulous constructions of artist David Barnett (no relation I suspect to our own Dave B).

Historic Hudson Valley – organization that maintains many of the historic sites within the region.  You can get information and book tours through their site.


The Castle on the Hudson - it was a special occasion so we splurged on a tower suite with a spacious living room with fireplace and dining area, comfortable bedroom, good bathroom and views of the Hudson all the way to the George Washington Bridge and the skyscrapers of Manhattan. The public spaces of the hotel are spectacular, especially the Grand Hall, which would be an ideal space for a fairytale wedding party. The hotel staff was exceedingly gracious and helpful and the grounds included luxuriantly landscaped gardens and a fine swimming pool.  Delicious gourmet breakfasts were included in the room rate and we celebrated Stu’s birthday at their fine-dining restaurant, Equus.


Equus – well-prepared gourmet food in a stunning setting.  High price point for the area, though not compared to Manhattan. It’s not strictly comparable to the higher end NYC restaurants in terms of food or service, but we had a very enjoyable meal.

Buffet de la Gare, 155 Southside Avenue, Hastings-on-Hudson NY, 10706 914-478-1671 – Owned and operated by a French family, it’s like stepping into a teleporter and being beamed into a countryside bistro in France.  The classic standards, prepared with fresh, local ingredients, are cooked to mouth-watering perfection.  The atmosphere and staff are warm and inviting, and the soundtrack is perfect.  We had an excellent meal and only wish that we lived around the corner so we could dine here regularly.  Though driving about an hour for dinner is still quicker than flying to France.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns – Chef Dan Barber supplies many of the ingredients for his Greenwich Village restaurant, Blue Hill, and his same-named country restaurant located on his Stone Barns farm, which is situated in Pocantico Hills just up the road from the Union Church.  This is a thriving enterprise selling produce and offering classes and farm tours and all kinds of programs in addition to the restaurant.  The main dining room is only open for dinner, but there is a food shop where you can take away a small selection of salads, sandwiches and cooked items and consume them on benches overlooking the fields, or wherever else you might choose to picnic. We picked up vegetable salads and small pieces of barbecued chicken and had a light lunch at the farm.  We have also dined at both Blue Hills restaurants on other occasions and can attest to their farm-to-table credentials.

Sweet Grass Grill 24 Main St. Tarrytown 914-631-0000 – this is an attractive casual restaurant on the Main Street in Tarrytown with a fair selection of tasty food.  It’s nothing to go out of the way for, but if you want a nice lunch in a relaxed atmosphere while in the neighborhood, it’s a good choice.