Irvington Historic District
The Irvington Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Portions of the content on this page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group.
The Irvington Historic District is sited within the Village of Irvington, in New York State's Westchester County and represents approximately sixty acres between the Hudson River to the west and the Albany Post Road, now Broadway, to the east. The district contains the village's dense core of historic commercial, industrial, municipal and residential buildings. Main Street is oriented east-west, directly from Broadway to the eastern shore of the Hudson, and is the district's commercial spine from which most residential streets emanate. This direct orientation to the river, never losing sight of it, is an unusual feature among lower Hudson Valley river towns, which generally are oriented parallel to the river, along a north-south axis. The district's period of significance, well represented by extant historic properties, features and streetscapes, is roughly one century, from 1838 to the onset of World War II, or approximately 1939.
The Irvington Historic District is an example of a dense village commercial and residential historic core that became viable largely in the mid-19th century because of the trajectory of industry relating to three potent transportation routes—the Hudson River, the Hudson River Railroad (later, New York Central) and Broadway (Albany Post Road). These trade routes represent the genesis of the physical layout of the village and its social and economic underpinnings. Businesses flourished because of the influx and outflow of resources (people, money, raw materials and finished products) afforded by an active Hudson River, burgeoning new railroad and established post road, all key elements of the history, growth and sustained vitality of the Irvington Historic District. Vibrant trade associated with the Hudson River (connecting with New York City and the Erie Canal) and the emergence of the Hudson River Railroad—coupled with several prominent nearby estates—provided an enviable setting within which industry could flourish. When companies including Lord & Burnham, Pateman & Lockwood and the Cypress Lumber Company began to lay claim to the waterfront, the population of Irvington soared. Trains and roads facilitated further settlement as a suburban outpost, including new arrivals from New York City as well as outlying areas to the east and north, throughout and beyond the Town of Greenburgh.
The District contains excellent and intact examples of mid-19th century to early 20th century building stock, which includes period styles such as Italianate, Queen Anne, Gothic Revival, Romanesque Revival and Folk Victorian, among others. A number of notable buildings were constructed in the district by master architects and engineers, including James Renwick Jr's St. Barnabas Church, Stanford White's Cosmopolitan Building, Shepley, Rutan & Cooledge's Irvington Train Station, Alexander Hunter's collection of Queen Anne residences, Richard Behren's "Enclave" of homes along Grinnel Street, and the Croton Aqueduct by John B. Jervis.
Following Henry Hudson's explorations, financed by the Dutch East India Company in 1609, the eastern bank of the Hudson River was settled by the Dutch and then by the English, with a number of large manors consequently being carved out for the gentry. A portion of the Bisightick tract, land granted to New Amsterdam lawyer Adriaen van der Donck in 1646, was purchased by Frederick Philipse in 1693 to be used as a provisioning plantation for the transatlantic trade in grain, sugar, rum, and enslaved Africans. Four tenant farmers lived on and worked the land, known as Philipsburgh Manor, for the initial 200 years.
The Ecker farm, settled in 1650 by Stephen Ecker on the present Sunnyside site, was subdivided thirty years later by Ecker's relative Jan Harmse, where his home, now known as the Odell Tavern was built. Shortly after 1700, Captain John Buckhout settled along the Hudson River where the Cosmopolitan building now stands. Barent Dutcher's farm was established on what is now Matthiessen Park, later purchased by Justus Dearman in 1812 for whom the village was originally named.
Descendants of these original four farms remained on the land for generations. During the American Revolution, they were trapped in a nominally neutral but lawless area between British forces in the Bronx and American troops in northern Westchester. Repeatedly overrun and preyed upon by both sides, many inhabitants fled to safer areas, leaving their homes in the care of servants and slaves. During the war, British and Hessian soldiers partially destroyed the Dutcher house, and British Galleys fired on and burned the old Ecker house in the winter of 1777 after learning it was a refuge for American patriots. By the war's end, hardly a tree or building was left in the vicinity and in 1779, the lands of Frederick Philipse III, a loyalist, were seized by New York State and sold to tenants, who typically retained a plot of approximately 100 acres for themselves and sold the rest to investors. The boundaries of the four farms—stretching from the Hudson River east across the old Albany Post Road (now Broadway) to the Sawmill River, and from Dobbs Ferry north to Tarrytown set the perimeters for development of the village of Irvington.
Simultaneous to the construction of the aqueduct, the lands surrounding the future village of Irvington began to develop into large estates. James Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, purchased a 154-acre portion of the Hamse Farm in 1837 and built "Nevis," an estate named after the West Indies island birthplace of his father. In the same decade, Washington Irving, America's first man of letters, purchased Wolfert Ecker's Colonial-era farmhouse 1.6 miles north. Irving altered the property, now known as Sunnyside, and lived there until his death in 1859.
As the area developed with the introduction of surrounding estates, the lands of the district itself remained largely undeveloped throughout the brunt of first half of the 19th century as the farm of Justus Dearman. Dearman was a New York City merchant who bought one hundred and forty-four acres in 1812. In 1848 Dearman sold his property to Gustavis Sacchi for $26,000. Sacchi resold it to Franklin C. Field, a partner in the firm Jay and Field in New York City. Franklin C. Field, who had the property sub-divided into individual building lots, established the village of 'Dearman.' On April 25, 1850 these lots were publicly auctioned at the Merchant's Exchange in New York City. By 1854, residents had decided "Irvington" was a more fitting name for the village after a nearly unanimous vote. Legend has it that the one dissenting vote came from Washington Irving himself.
Simultaneous to the subdivision of the Dearman farm, the Hudson River Railroad was successfully lobbied for and constructed in 1849. If the Croton Aqueduct, which began in 1837 parallel to Broadway, had disrupted farming for five years, the arrival of the railroad in 1849 virtually ended it. "Since the Hudson River [Rail] Road has commenced running," the New York Times reported in 1853, "land has risen to a price at which farming on the most improved principles would fail to be remunerative ... delightful scenery and fresh air [are] brought within an hour's ride of our city, and businessmen are enabled to join their families at the evening and morning meal in their pleasant, healthful homes." The railroad vastly improved the speed and agility of connectedness to points south (NYC), north and beyond.
By 1857 Irvington contained a hotel, six stores and twenty-seven dwellings primarily concentrated near the railroad to the west and up Main Street. One good example of a typical residential from this period is the McVickar House at 131 Main Street. Constructed in 1853, the home is a two and one-half story, Greek Revival residence with a side hall entrance, sidelights, transoms and a well-proportioned assembly of pediments. A single story full-width porch with carved wood details was completed later. Period details extolling the carpenters' skill, such as those found on the McVickar House, are integral to most buildings from this period. Irvington's tree-lined side streets were originally named with only letters in alphabetical order, with "A" Street closest to the river. Letters were changed to names when a local doctor, Dr. Roane, had to deal with the introduction of the telephone. "B" sounded to similar to "D" or "E" and the doctor could not figure out on which street his sick patients lived. The streets were then renamed for famous Irvington residents with "A" Street becoming Astor Street after John Jacob Astor III, one of the richest men in America. Astor lived in Irvington at "Nuits," the Italian Revival villa designed by European architect Detlaf Lienau for textile merchant Francois Cottenet.
"B" Street became Buckhout Street after John Buckhout, an early settler who was believed to have been a captain in the colonial militia and to have served in many of the wars with France. The Buckhout farm was one of the four original tenant farms that composed what we know as Irvington today. During the revolution, a detachment of British troops camped out on the Buckhout farm on high ground west of Broadway. John Buckhout was stabbed by a British sailor at the age of 94 but managed to survive, living until the age of 103 and leaving 240 descendants when he died in 1785.
"C" Street was named for Francois Cottenet, a prosperous textile importer who moved to Irvington in 1853. It was Cottenet who had "Nuits" built for himself in 1852. The stones for the house were quarried in France and brought across the Atlantic as ballast in Cottenet's sailing ships. The large stone mansion was named after Cottenet's birthplace, Nuits-St.-George, a small town on the Cote-d'Or in France.
"D" Street was named for another of the original tenant farmers, Barent Dutcher. Dutcher was born in Kingston, New York in about 1675 of parents who had emigrated from Holland. The Dutcher farm comprised most of present-day Irvington's Matthiessen Park and Main Street areas. Dutcher erected his home on a rise of land overlooking the Tappan Zee, the widest point in the Hudson River.
"E" Street became Eckar Street for Wolfert Ecker, whose parents also came from Holland—a tenant farmer on the Phillipse land in 1692. His occupation was given as cooper, or tub maker, and farmer. His farm was located in the northern reaches of what is now Irvington, overlooking the Tappan Zee. A raiding party from a British ship partially burned the Ecker farmhouse during the revolution. Ecker's relatives living there at the time had to flee saving only the clothes they were wearing. In 1835 Washington Irving bought a part of the Ecker farm, where he built Sunnyside which he described as "a little nookery, somewhat in the Dutch style, quaint but unpretending."
"F" Street became Ferris Street, named after Benson Ferris, a prosperous merchant who lived at the northwest corner of Sunnyside Lane and Broadway in the early 1800s. Ferris Landing was at the west end of Sunnyside Lane on the Hudson River. Ships docked there with cargo for the village.
"G" Street takes its name from Moses Grinnell, who was a nephew of Washington Irving by marriage. His firm, Grinnell and Minturn, was one of the largest suppliers of produce and staples to New York City retail markets. The famous clipper ship "Flying Cloud" proudly carried his house flag. In addition to being a successful importer, Grinnell was a skilled politician and it was his influence with Daniel Webster, the secretary of state, that resulted in Washington Irving being named minister to Spain. His home was located just north of Sunnyside on the Hudson.
Other recognizable street names include Croton Place, a short side street facing the footpath above the Croton Aqueduct, a National Historic Landmark, which conveyed fresh water from the Croton River to Manhattan. The stone used for Irvington's part of the aqueduct was blasted from a quarry near the Presbyterian Church located on Broadway. Croton Place, which borders the aqueduct just east of Grinnell Street, takes its name from this amazing engineering feat. North and South Dearman Street were named in honor of the original tenant farmer of the district, Justus Dearman, who purchased land from Barent Dutcher.
The connection of the river, rail, and road played the most influential role in the development of Irvington's downtown. The industrial zone along the waterfront began to see substantial development after the Hudson River Railroad reached the village in 1849. Pateman & Lockwood, a lumber, coal and building supply business, established a presence in Irvington, constructing their main building and complex at 4 West Main Street in 1853 on existing land.
The initial development of the village was described by a newspaper reporter as follows, "It all seems like magic. In so short a time the germ of a beautiful village is producing new neighbors for Sunnyside (Irving's home). A main street has been laid out, and side streets run north and south, much like the arms of telegraph poles." By 1868, there were over one hundred buildings evenly dispersed throughout the district.
The village was largely employed by factories sited adjacent to the river and rail. However, much of the commerce and a large segment of the population supported the many estates that were established outside of the downtown. Cyrus W. Field, builder of the transatlantic cable who bought much of the Harmse farm in 1869, represents the semiretired industrialists and financiers who began to arrive after the railroad and the Civil War. Whereas the early-19th-century estates were built along the Hudson River, newcomers favored the heights east of Broadway, which offered both panoramic views of the Hudson River and isolation from the noise and disruption of trains and the new industries growing up on the waterfront. In the 1870s and 1880s, estates were built in Irvington by individuals such as Charles Tiffany, Amzi Barber (the "Asphalt King"), John Jacob Astor III, George Morgan (brother of J.P. Morgan and co-founder of the famous banking house), and James Hamilton (son of Alexander Hamilton), among others.
Perhaps the largest employer and most profitable businesses to capitalize on Irvington's locations was Lord & Burnham. In 1870, Frederick A. Lord moved his boiler and greenhouse company to Irvington. The company was established in Buffalo in 1849 and later expanded to Syracuse in 1856. Upon the company's arrival in 1870, Lord's strategically placed his building at the base of the village, adjacent to both the Hudson River and the railroad. The access and transshipment opportunity afforded by river, rail and road contributed significantly to the success of the enterprise: Lord & Burnham Company became one of the most successful boiler and greenhouse companies in America. Credited with numerous innovations in design and construction, they built the first steel-framed, curvilinear greenhouse in the United States at Jay Gould's Lyndhurst Mansion, located immediately to the north of its facility.6 In 1881, the company rebuilt a former shoe factory as its headquarters and further expanded its plant in 1892, when it began purchasing submerged land to the west of the railroad, laying the groundwork for infill and new construction that, when completed in 1912, straddled two major transportation modes, the Hudson River and the Hudson River Railroad. This expansion influenced much of what is seen in Irvington today—as well as in Rivertowns to the north and south.
The village was incorporated on April 16, 1854; a president and board of trustees were elected, and boundaries were established encompassing an area of 1,850 acres. Population at the time was 599, quickly increasing to 2,299 by 1890. The village center provided housing for workers in the Lord & Burnham Company and those working on the surrounding estates; while businesses on Main Street supplied goods and services for the entire community. During the 1880s gaslights were installed along the streets in the village proper, the first firehouse was built, and waterworks were constructed. Substantial growth continued for forty years with empty lots being steadily filled with new structures.
From 1880 to 1900, residential lots continued to fill out on the north-south streets, while Astor Street (facing the river and rail) and Main Street (leading to Broadway, the Post Road), developed as commercial corridors. Building styles from this period tend to derive from the Victorian, Queen Anne, Italianate and Gothic. At the outset of the 20th century, the village constructed its town hall on Main Street, a quintessential location for the era's municipal buildings; it is executed in the Classical Revival style. Electrification of the railroad in 1912 shortened the journey from Irvington to Grand Central Terminal to just thirty-five minutes, leading Irvington to gradually take on the character of a commuter suburb. The following year, the district's public school, also on Main Street, was constructed. The school and contemporaneous construction largely reflects the Colonial Revival style. Perhaps as an indication of the wealth supporting the community, the Great Depression left Irvington largely unscathed; numerous buildings date from the period. Construction in the village largely ceased with the emergence of WWII, which marks the end of the district's period of significance.
Walter Sedovic, FAIA, Walter Sedovic Architects and Daniel McEneny, New York State Historic Preservation Office, Irvington Historic District, Westchester County, NY, nomination document, 2013, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.