Sunnyside — Washington Irving’s Tarrytown home, on the east bank of the Hudson River — was a special place to Irving. A lifelong traveler, Irving lived for most of his adult life in hotels, rented apartments, or as the guest in someone else’s home.
It wasn’t until 1835, when Irving was 52 years old, that he finally acquired his own property — and he was determined to make a home of his own. Sunnyside, with its mixture of architectural styles, sprawling grounds, and carefully orchestrated views, reflects Irving’s own tastes, vision, and personality.
In June 1835, Irving formally acquired the two-room stone farmhouse on the old Van Tassell property for $1,800 — and he had big plans for it. Already Irving had engaged his neighbor, the painter George Harvey, to help him rebuild and renovate the place, with comfort and space enough to tempt friends to visit and family to stay. “My idea is to make a little nookery somewhat in the Dutch style, quaint, but unpretending,” Irving explained.
Consequently, no detail was too minute, and Irving micromanaged nearly every facet of the construction and renovation of the farmhouse. He fussed about the best way to inscribe Harvey’s name over the south door, and demanded to know how the windows would be glazed. He ordered one bedroom “finished in a different way from the others,” and for a sloped inner bedroom wall to be covered with striped paper “to resemble the curtain of a tent.” Old Dutch cottages, he told Harvey, had “crow steps” on their gabled ends, and so must his.
Irving completed the basic renovations to his home in September 1836, though the house and its grounds would remain in a perpetual state of improvement and renovation for the rest of Irving’s life. “Wolfert’s Roost,” Irving named it at first, after the property’s original owner – a name that stuck until 1841, when Irving finally settled on a more appropriate name that fit his own demeanor: Sunnyside.
Sunnyside still welcomes visitors to this day – and thanks to the efforts of Historic Hudson Valley, still looks much as it did during Washington Irving’s lifetime.
Sunnyside is under the management of Historic Hudson Valley of New York, an organization committed to celebrating the history, architecture, landscape, and material culture of the Hudson Valley, “advancing its importance, and thereby assuring its preservation.”
For information on visiting Sunnyside, click here.