Peter Feinman: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (2012)

Once upon a time, as all good stories begin, in the fair village of North Tarrytown (later to be renamed Sleepy Hollow), there was a beacon of light in the river that ran two ways.

Located a quarter mile from the shore of village on the river, this lighthouse had been built in 1882-1883 by strong and sturdy men back in the day when strong and sturdy men built and made things along the Hudson River and before it became a valley of ruins with a book of a similar name.

This cylinder tower shone its light to warn off any captains of the cargo ships and passenger ships that plied the waters to stay away from the rocky shoals hidden from sight which threatened the safety of any of dared too sail too close.

Then one day in the summer of double aught over a century past, the Mobile Company of America began producing Walker Steam cars in a 700-window factory on the former Kingsland estate, designed by architect Stanford White. A few years hence and Maxwell-Briscoe Motor Company owned the plant with neigh up to 2000 employees who led the world in producing low-cost cars. Later the plant was purchased by Chevrolet, then an independent company and not yet part of General Motors.

Changes came to the fair landscape of the lovely village along the river. The course of the Pocantico River was diverted northwards. Below, the course of the river was changed as General Motors moved figurative mountains to fill the bay until a mighty factory dominated the landscape. Then the beacon of light was decommissioned in 1965 when the Tappan Zee Bridge was built. In 1996, General Motors bid adieu to the fair village leaving an empty shell to stand abandoned along the water’s edge.

So when Rip Van Winkle awakened in 2012, he saw a mighty slab of concrete on the former 97-acre site where cars by the millions had been built in the fair village of North Tarrytown, which had renamed itself Sleepy Hollow because North Tarrytown was not a name on which to build a future. Whereas once the keepers had rowed to shore from the lighthouse to get the food they needed or for the kids to go to school, now the lighthouse was scant yards from the shore connected by an aluminum bridge, easily accessible.

I once stood with a group of teachers at the top of the lighthouse cooled by a more than gentle breeze on a hot summer day listening to the mayor of Sleepy Hollow regal us with his vision of the lovely new community to be built on the site where millions of car once had been manufactured. That was years ago, and the site still sits barren and forlorn, an ugly reminder of what once was a thriving economic giant.

As one peers through the mists of the river you can glimpse a tantalizing vision of a restored Pocantico River, like the Saw Mill River in Yonkers, which now runs down main street. If one stares long enough through the mist, an improved Kingsland Park takes shape, and suddenly there in the distance is a new community where people can live and enjoy life along the river.

On July 23, 2012, in the local Journal Newsbecause I enjoy reading a paper for my news – I saw the following headline: “Tarrytown lighthouse awaits restoration: $800G plan to extend lifetime of Tarrytown lighthouse built in 1883.”

What was happening? What magic would restore life to what had been abandoned? Lo and behold, there were marine engineers from the McLaren Engineering Group in West Nyack diving into the cold waters to inspect the foundation of the lighthouse. Architect Stephen Tilly of Dobbs Ferry had been hired to plan the restoration of the lighthouse, and he needed to know what the condition of the structure was.

Who would hire someone to restore this mothballed and obsolete lighthouse now that it had been replaced by the Tappan Zee Bridge and was only a few yards from shore? As it turns out, the fair village of Sleepy Hollow and the county of Westchester. “This is a very special piece of history,” said Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner for Westchester County Parks.” It comes from a different time period and it’s certainly important to know what lighthouses did back then. The public will certainly benefit from this project.”

The village plans to have the lighthouse serve as a focal point of the Lighthouse Landing, a proposed redevelopment plan for the former General Motors where condos on the water nearby sell for $1,000,000. “Most of the work being done is related to the structure of the lighthouse,” Village Administrator Anthony Giaccio said. “The bulk of funding is dedicated to making sure the structure itself is intact for another 100 years. This destination is a big asset for Sleepy Hollow.”

Resident Elizabeth Higgins says she plans to take her son, William, on a tour of the lighthouse when it reopens next year. “The river is such an integral part of the community,” she said. “It makes sense to renovate the lighthouse because of its historical significance. It’s important that it’s accessible and open to the public.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? “Its historical significance” said a member of the general public. Cultural heritage economic development working together so the new community to emerge on the site has a link and connection to its history.

A letter to the very same newspaper on July 26, tells a different tale.

“Lighthouse funds could be better used”

“Paying $800,000 to restore a lighthouse funded by the Village of Sleepy Hollow and Westchester County is a nice idea, but there is something wrong when we are spending that kind of money in this economic environment.

“The Village of Sleepy Hollow must have other ways to spend its share of the money that would benefit its populous. How about some affordable housing, or maybe using its share of the money to keep tax increases down? The County of Westchester also must have better ways to spend its share- all we hear about are budget cutbacks and layoffs. How many “important” budget items could be saved by diverting the lighthouse money to projects that benefit the majority?

“Restoring a lighthouse is a nice idea but will benefit only a very few people. Local and county government officials — please get your priorities in order.”

How would you answer this letter? What is your community’s story?

Photo: Tarrytown Lighthouse from shore.

Peter Feinman founder and president of the Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education, a non-profit organization which provides enrichment programs for schools, professional development program for teachers, public programs including leading Historyhostels and Teacherhostels to the historic sites in the state, promotes county history conferences and the more effective use of New York State Heritage Weekend and the Ramble.

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2 thoughts on “Peter Feinman: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (2012)

  1. Ed M

    Unfortunately, as time and municipal budgets and local politicians and developers have shown, such pretty ideas do not work in the long run.

    The critics said in the past and even today the same basic things about military budgets and NASA budgets.

    “We can use the money to fight crime and poverty, lower taxes, better housing, better education, repairs roads and bridges, Etc”. and so forth.

    The sad reality is that all the money, if any, that was saved was frittered away, mostly lining pockets and bank accounts.

    We still have problems with all the above listed issues and a mere $800.00 will vanish in an instant.

    At least if it is earmarked clearly for the lighthouse, we know where it is going and can watch it. And a historic restoration is for the public good.

    Reply
  2. Al Silbert

    Once there was a farmer, let’s call him “Farmer T.” who was on his way to buy seeds that were to become the next crop.

    Just before completing the purchase he heard a voice, “There is something wrong when we are spending that kind of money in this economic environment.”

    Farmer T. thought, “Perhaps the voice is right. Buying seeds is a waste of money. No way it’ll stimulate the economy. After all, they’ll just be thrown away, scattered in the dirt.”

    So he put the money back in his pocket, walked out of the seed store, and headed to Starbucks where he bought himself a latte with the money.

    Now to this article.

    It sounds to me like the $800,000 is like seed money. No one knows for sure if it’ll lead to anything good, but without seed money, without vision, the probability of anything good developing soon is depressingly low.

    Perhaps the cultural heritage economic development referred to in the article, nudged on by the participation of people with vision working together, a new community will emerge on the site and perhaps even beyond.

    And, I’ll bet a latte that it’ll take very little time for the $800,000 seed money, and far more, to come back into the community in taxes and increased commerce.

    Reply

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