by Barbara Moroch –
Residents of the rivertowns share the area with legends of the past — people and places that have broadened the understanding of life along the Hudson. Historic properties dot the landscape, each with its own stories to tell, such as railroad developer Jay Gould and his gothic mansion, Lyndhurst; famed author Washington Irving and his home at Sunnyside; the Philipse family who emigrated from Holland to create Philipsburg Manor farm and trade center; and the Rockefeller family’s Kykuit, a grand Georgian mansion in Sleepy Hollow.
A new addition to this auspicious lineup is an unimposing little property, tucked away on the grounds of the former Phillpsburg Manor, known as the Acker Farmhouse, located at 740 South Broadway in Tarrytown. Like the others, it has an interesting story behind it. Sara Mascia, executive director of The Historical Society serving Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, along with her associate and trustee of the Society, Charlene Weigel, conducted most of the research on the Acker Farmhouse to help make the case for its landmark designation.
“The property is believed to have been built before 1766 by the Acker family,” said Mascia. The Ackers were tenant farmers and patriots during the American Revolution, with several members serving in the military. In fact, Stephen Acker’s name can be found listed on the Revolutionary War Monument located in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
This connection, Mascia noted, made the house eligible for landmark status. “It is particularly important because this structure, not representative of the wealthy individuals who owned so many of the historic properties in the area, represents a colonial family that worked the land and helped establish this country,” she explained. “It is also one of the last 18th-century structures still standing in the village. Through deeds, letters, and maps we’ve been able to compile information about several of its occupants.”
One of those occupants was a shoemaker named John Forkill, who purchased the property in 1826. He was known to have at least one very notable customer, Washington Irving, who often visited the house for social visits, shoe repairs — and even commissioning tailor-made shirts by Forkill’s daughter, Rachel, who was a seamstress.
“We have copies of a letter Irving penned about visiting his ‘friend Forkel,’” noted Mascia, “and this link further strengthened the case for landmarking this house in Tarrytown. It’s particularly fitting this year, as we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of Irving’s The Sketch Book by Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.”
Throughout the 20th century, the Acker Farmhouse was part of a larger estate owned by several individuals. In 1972, it was purchased by the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, which currently has the property up for sale.
Enter the Historical Society, which did the analysis to support the Village of Tarrytown in its decision to officially landmark the property. The designation was formally granted on April 15 and carries with it certain responsibilities, such as maintaining the property’s historic appearance and preserving its architectural integrity.
“For decades, our organization has tried to keep an eye on the fate of this structure and others,” explained Mascia. “In fact, as early as the 1930s the Society had hoped to place a historic marker in front of the Acker Farmhouse celebrating its Revolutionary connection, but fiscal constraints during the Depression prevented us from doing so.”
The Society’s stewardship of significant and longstanding structures continues. Toward that end, it recently revived its Historic Landmark Committee, which is actively working toward designating additional properties in the area. Said Mascia, “As with the Acker Farmhouse, our main goal is to preserve important pieces of history for generations to come.”