“It stands on a knoll, surrounded by locust-trees and lofty elms, from among which its descent, whitewashed walls shine modestly forth, like Christian purity, beaming through the shades of retirement…. To look upon this grassgrown yard, where the sunbeams seem to sleep so quietly, one would think that there at least the dead might rest in peace.”
-The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
When Washington Irving set his ghost story about the Headless Horseman at the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, he made the church world-famous. Ever since the publication of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1819-20, visitors have come to see where Ichabod Crane led the choir and courted Katrina Van Tassel among the old gravestones in the churchyard, and looked for the grave of the Headless Horseman in the Old Burying Ground.
The church was already old when Irving first saw it, when he was a teenager. It was built in 1685 and formally organized as Dutch Reformed in 1697. It served as the congregation’s home for imore than 150 years, until a new building was constructed. Even then, it was retained for worship on summer Sundays and special holidays. This custom continues today.
If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
– Romans 8:31
This inscription on the bell that hangs in the belfry of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow has been a comfort to the congregation through war and peace, personal joys and tragedies, since it was commissioned in Holland and installed in the belfry. Most historians date the church’s construction to 1685, the year engraved on the bell.
The church is recognized as the oldest extant church in New York and a National Historic Landmark. The Old Dutch Burying Ground, which surrounds it on three acres, is believed to predate the church. Washington Irving is buried just up the hill, in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery adjacent.
During Holy Week and Easter, the Reformed Church holds Good Friday services and an Easter Sunrise service at the Old Dutch Church. Summer worship services at Old Dutch feature “Seven Sundays of Worship and Music,” with guest musicians each Sunday morning during the season.
Other events at Old Dutch include Christmas Eve candlelight services, organ concerts and the Old Dutch Festival in the fall. Tours are scheduled on summer weekend afternoons. The Reformed Church partners with Historic Hudson Valley to present several dramatic readings of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in the fall, and Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.”
An engaging history of the church is now available from Friends of Old Dutch. The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow: Legends and Lore of the Oldest Church in New York by Janie Couch Allen and Elinor Griffith may be purchased through the church office, at 914-631-4497. Proceeds go toward preservation and upkeep of the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground.
In 1685, when it was built in the wilderness north of New York City, the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow brought comfort and community to isolated pioneer families. Succeeding generations treasured the old church, the only house of worship in a wide area until 1837, when members of Old Dutch built a larger church nearby then another a few years later. Yet somehow they didn’t abandon the old church, which continues to this day to host the congregation every summer for worship services. What was it about the church on the Pocantico River, made famous by Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow? Read about its rich history and colorful characters in The Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow: Legends and Lore of the Oldest Church in New York. It is available from the church office at (914) 631-4497.