Today marks the 229th birthday of the author Washington Irving. Irving lived in Tarrytown, NY and wrote many stories set in the Hudson Valley. You may have heard of some of them: Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow are two of his best known stories. Irving also wroteKnickerbocker’s History of New York,under the pen name Dietrich Knickerbocker.
The cover of the 1894 edition of “Knickerbocker’s History of New York from the CCHS Library.
So what does Washington Irving have to do with Columbia County? It turns out, he visited here a lot! He was friends with several people who lived in Columbia County, including Martin Van Buren. During one visit to Kinderhook, Irving also met a school teacher, named Jessie Merwin, and they became friends too. Merwin taught at a log, one-room school, in Kinderhook’s District #6. After spending time with Merwin, Irving wrote the storyThe Legend of Sleepy Hollow,and guess who he based the main character, a school teacher, on? Jessie Merwin! In 1846, Martin Van Buren even wrote a statement, verifying that Jessie Merwin was the inspiration for Ichabod Crane:
“This is to certify that I have known Jessie Merwin, Esq., of Kinderhook for about 1/3 of a century and believe him to be a man of honor and integrity, and that he is the same person celebrated in the writings of the Hon. Washington Irving under the character of Ichabod Crane in his famous Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
After Jessie Merwin retired from teaching, the old log schoolhouse was replaced with a new one-room schoolhouse. Eventually, this new schoolhouse got the name the “Ichabod Crane Schoolhouse” after the character in Irving’s book. When Irving heard that the old school had been torn down, he was disappointed. He wrote to Merwin:
“You tell me that the old schoolhouse is torn down and a nice one built in its place. I am sorry for it. I should have liked to see the old school once more; where (I used) after my mornings literary task was over, I used to come and wait for you occasionally until school was dismissed…I don’t think I should look with a friendly eye at the new school house, however nice it may be.”
He must have been very sad, to hear that the old building where he spent time with his friend had been torn down!
Today, the Ichabod Crane Schoolhouse is a museum, run by CCHS. In 1974, it was moved from its original location to the lawn of the Luykas Van Alen House. Maybe if you’re a 4th grader (or older), you’ve already been there! If not, come visit when it re-opens for the Summer (May 20th).
CCHS also has a collection of prints made by Felix Octavius Darley that show scenes from the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. In the one above, you can see Ichabod Crane being chased by the headless horseman! Darley also drew illustrations for Rip Van Winkle (you can see one of those, from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, here).