Church History

A brief history of Christ Episcopal Church (and of course Washington Irving!)

Christ Episcopal Church has had a long and distinguished history and since its humble beginnings, has always been a center for church and community activity.

Founded in 1836 by retired bookseller Nathaniel Holmes and the eminent clergyman Dr. William Creighton as a Sunday School in a borrowed schoolroom, soon enough local Episcopalians came together to construct their own church. As Tarrytown itself grew from a sleepy rural hamlet and summer retreat  to an important industrial hub buzzing with activity, likewise Christ Church grew over the years from a small country church with just fifty pews to the imposing gothic revival structure it is today, complete with gargoyles and beautiful stained glass.

While many famous individuals have worshiped at Christ Church, perhaps the best known is Washington Irving. One of the most celebrated American authors of the nineteenth century, many of Irving’s literary creations such as Ichabod Crane and Rip Van Winkle are still well-known today. Returning from many years traveling in Europe as a writer and diplomat, Irving was anxious to have a settled home and bought the farmhouse on the banks of the Hudson river which he envisioned as Sunnyside. Having met our first rector, Dr. Creighton socially, in 1848 he was persuaded to join Christ Church where he found a spiritual home and community. Still full of energy in his sixties, he served as Sunday School teacher, in parish leadership and even passed the collection plate – many stories were told of visitors who came to Christ Church specifically to see the celebrity author.

Irving’s funeral in 1859, reported in the national press, was so well attended that it was feared the floors would collapse and the church would have to be rebuilt. Many subsequent renovations and extensions have indeed changed both the original interior and facade since Irving’s time but still many reminders of his generosity and involvement in our parish remain. While the church’s first furnace to which he contributed has long since been donated to the Smithsonian, his original pine pew is still preserved, as is his bible and warden’s key. Our main altar is of Normandy marble, donated by the great writer and on special occasions, the Eucharist is still celebrated using the pewter communion set Irving ordered from England .The church tower is still covered with the distinctive ivy he brought back from Sir Walter Scott’s house at Abbotsford Scotland. Until Sunnyside was opened to the public in 1947, Christ Church was a frequent stop for students of Irving’s works and the parish continues to commemorate milestones in his life such as important birthdays and anniversaries of his publications.

Although most of the major renovations of the building occurred during the 1800’s, in 1952 Christ Church underwent significant restructuring when we merged with our sister parish St. Mark’s in what was then North Tarrytown. Established in 1861, St. Mark’s was known as the Washington Irving Memorial Church, but as local demographics evolved it was felt it would be better to join the two congregations. St. Mark’s lives on as a dedicated chapel in the south transept of our building and many of the original furnishings.such as the Herrin Memorial Altar were incorporated into services at Christ Church.

Christ Episcopal Church continues to evolve with the times and the needs of the local community. Our many archived letters and newsletters chronicle the regional and national causes we were involved in over the course of nearly 200 years and sixteen rectors, many a beloved part of our community:  in 1993, Christ Church started the San Marcos Mission to serve the growing local Hispanic population and since 2009 has hosted the Community Food Pantry of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow. The wonderful acoustics of our building still resound with our ongoing concerts and theatrical performances and our parish energy focused on outreach and responding to the needs of our neighbors.

Washington Irving, a famously generous-hearted man, would surely have approved. Our history may have made us what we are today – and who knows what lies in our future.

(For further information on Washington Irving, the history of Christ Church and our beautiful stained glass, please see the pamphlets available in the entrance to the church. We hope in the near future to be open again to the public for historic tours.)