by Robert Kimmel
Construction work is underway to fix a problem that has confronted the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow for many decades. The church’s accessibility for the handicapped, elderly, and others with ambulatory disabilities has been difficult, or as one person associated with the church described it, “treacherous.”
Old, uneven steps leading to the church’s front entrance will be replaced and a ramp is being built to ease entry for the disabled. The ramp will provide, “…level pathways from the front of the church through the Old North Gate and back to the church,” according to plans.
To make the exterior entry way less confining, a small platform at the front of building is being expanded to double its present size also to allow a “gathering place as people exit the church.”
A Groundbreaking Ceremony early in April preceded the construction. The Rev. Jeff Gargano spoke of the necessity to make access to the church easier for those with handicaps, mothers with carriages, and the elderly. Aubrey Hawes, President of Friends of the Old Dutch Church noted that as of that time, more than $250,000 had been raised toward reaching the $350,000 needed for the project.
Sleepy Hollow Mayor Ken Wray described how the church not only drew local worshippers and visitors but people from around the world visiting Sleepy Hollow. Others who spoke included Fred Volpacchio, Hidden Design Build Group; Renee Chillemi, Vice President of the Reformed Church of Tarrytowns, which owns the Old Dutch Church, and Joanne Tall, Kamen Tall Architects.
The congregation at the Reformed Church uses the Old Dutch Church for worship on summer Sundays and during some holidays. The congregation originated in the Old Dutch Church in 1697. The church was made famous in Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” in which the Headless Horseman made his appearance, and where, in the adjacent Old Burying Ground, he was alleged to have been buried.
The construction project is expected to be completed before the end of June so that the church may be back in use at that time. When built in 1685, it was originally closer to the level of the road running before it, but then, over the years the road level at its frontage was lowered, necessitating the need for access stairs and partial ramps.