The first thought that crossed my mind when I stepped into the small entry hall was, how on earth did the women get around in their big skirts in this place? Granted, the nieces of 19th Century American writer, Washington Irving, were smaller than me and my out of state guests, but still, it gave me pause. When the five daughters of his brother Ebenezer, all living with Irving, attended their uncle, navigating the hallways and narrow stairways, they did so swathed in yard upon yard of gingham, silk or muslin over swinging hoop skirts. It boggled my mind.
Sunnyside sits grandly enough along the banks of the Hudson in Tarrytown, New York and from the outside exudes grace and charm. This is no less true of the inside and as we were guided through the house and grounds, we enjoyed a real sense of the early history of the area and of our country. We learned from our costumed and witty guide that Irving could count such notables as Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary Shelly among his friends and acquaintances. He frequently held dances in the sitting room. His accomplishments in several arenas, writing not being the least of them, had us gaping in wonder.
The house is an 1835 Romantic/Dutch Colonial Revival style estate, featuring a fully furnished and restored house, icehouse, gardens and wooded footpaths. Irving remodeled the house and added to it to accommodate his extended family. The upstairs bedrooms are of particular interest as they give a lovely flavor of the times.
The whole air of the place lends credence to one of my favorite passages in Irving’s, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a place which he describes thus:
A pleasing land of drowsy head it was,
Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye,
And of gay castles in the clouds that pass,
Forever flushing round a summer sky.
A visit to Sunnyside will not disappoint. Even the inevitable gift shop is a delight, rife with memorabilia from Irving’s most popular tales and rich in atmosphere. Tarrytown itself boasts many other attractions including fine dining and accommodations, among them the famous Castle on the Hudson and the Horsefeathers pub.
Now, don't you just want to go there?
Image: Michal Marcol Free Digital Photos