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Historic Rivertowns

Dobbs Ferry’s Zion Episcopal Church Now Listed on the National Register of Historic Places

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September 19, 2022

By Barrett Seaman–

Sunday, September 18th was officially proclaimed Zion Episcopal Church Day, not only by Village of Dobbs Ferry Mayor Vincent Rossillo but also by County Legislator MaryJane Shimsky on behalf of Westchester County and by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on behalf of the entire State of New York.

The occasion was the unveiling of a plaque at the entrance to the church driveway on Cedar Street heralding the church’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The listing is for the entire church campus on the hilltop overlooking the village, but four specific structures—the church building, the Parish Hall, the Rectory and the stone wall facing Cedar Street—were singled out in the designation, which was actually awarded in 2020.

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The church itself was built in 1833-34 and was once considered the “Mother of Churches” in the lower Hudson Valley, the parent of Christ Church in Tarrytown, Grace Church in Hastings-on-Hudson and the Church of St. Barnabas in Irvington. It is the oldest surviving Gothic Revival-style house of worship in the county. Its Rectory, which dates back to 1783, is believed to be the oldest surviving building in Dobbs Ferry. Among the architectural features are but­tresses, qua­tre­foils and Gothic arches. Its ex­te­rior is made from the Grey­stone that is a familiar hallmark of structures up and down the Hud­son River valley

Zion’s parishioners include the son and grandson of Alexander Hamilton and Washington Irving, who sat on its governing Vestry, as he also did at Tarrytown’s Christ Church. At one time, the Rev­erend William McVickar, who even­tu­ally founded St. Barn­abas in Irv­ing­ton, was its Rec­tor, credited with de­signing the church’s first ex­ten­sion.

Zion has long embraced progressive views. It was the first Episcopal Church in the United States to legally ordain a woman priest; it’s current Priest-in-Charge is the Reverend Mary Grambsch.

Looking down the nave towards the alter of Zion Episcopal Church

Being listed on the Register of Historic Places does not necessarily protect the designee’s architectural integrity, but it does enhance its chances of obtaining grants that can fund legal defenses against efforts to buy or demolish properties.

Speakers at the unveiling event credited the church’s senior warden, Cynthia Caracta, historian Mary Sudman Donovan, architect and parishioner Niall Cain, Ann Friedman the Director of Sacred Sites, who in turn brought in Columbia University graduate student Emily Kahn, now Program Coordinator for the National Fund for Sacred Places with the National Trust. It was Ms. Kahn, a graduate of the Masters School, who crafted the all-important applications that ultimately won recognition for Zion.

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