by Robert Kimmel
With construction work designed to improve access to the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow proceeding on schedule, its reopening is expected by mid-June. After decades of entry problems for the handicapped and elderly, new stairs, ramps and pathways leading to the building will ease access for all worshippers.
The church’s old approaches have disappeared as workers have begun to build the stairs and ramps. However, access to the adjacent Old Burying Ground remains available through the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery gate to the south of the church.
Congregants at the Reformed Church of the Tarrytowns, traditionally use the Old Dutch Church for worship on Sundays during the summer and on certain holidays. The historic church, owned and operated by the newer Reformed Church, was built in the 17th century, and was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1961. Washington Irving brought world-wide fame to the church and Old Burying Ground with his ghostly tale of the Headless Horseman in his 1820 novel, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
The church’s main entrance was originally on its south side, but damage from a fire in 1837 led to construction of its present west side entryway. Changes lowering the roadbed of Old Albany Post Road ultimately required building the uneven stairs and pathways which are being replaced. A small landing at the church’s entrance is being doubled in size to permit it to serve as a “gathering place as people exit the church.”
A groundbreaking ceremony early in April preceded the construction. The Rev. Jeff Gargano spoke of the need to make access to the church easier for those with handicaps, for carriages, and wheelchairs, and the elderly. Aubrey Hawes, president of Friends of the Old Dutch Church, told attendees that as of the groundbreaking more than $250,000 had been raised toward reaching the $350,000 needed for the project. The total collected since then has edged closer to $300,000.
Sleepy Hollow Mayor Ken Wray noted how the church not only drew local worshippers and visitors but people from around the world visiting the village and congregation’s efforts over the years to keep the church in repair. Others who spoke included Fred Volpacchio, Hidden Design Build Group; Renee Chillemi, Vice President of the Reformed Church of Tarrytowns, Joanne Tall, Kamen Tall Architects, and Waddell Stillman, president of Historic Hudson Valley. Stillman described the construction project as “brilliantly conceived” and a “sensitive solution” to the preexisting problems.