Washington Irving in Riverdale

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    • #3366

        The author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving, popularized one translation of “Spuyten Duyvil” in his classic work, A History of New York.  According to Irving the trumpeter of New Amsterdam, Anthony van Corlaer, drowned in the Spuyten Duyvil Creek which he attempted to cross “in spite of the devil.”

        Irving’s fictional character, Diedrich Knickerbocker, was famously spotted “a little above Kingsbridge” by passengers on the Albany stagecoach.  This was part of Washington Irving’s guerilla marketing campaign for A History of New York.

        But there’s another Washington Irving connection to our neighborhood.  Apparently, he was a frequent visitor to Riverdale.  In 1838, Abraham Schermerhorn purchased a large swathe of land in Riverdale (about where the Riverdale Y is today, north of the historic district) from the heirs of John Warner.

        1858 map clipping of RiverdaleA clipping from an 1858 map of Riverdale.  Note the Schermerhorn and Suydam names near “Riverdale.”

        A genealogy of the Schermerhorn family contains a letter from Walter L. Suydam, who wrote the following about Abraham Schermerhorn:

        Abraham Schermerhorn also had quite a large tract of land at Riverdale extending from Broadway to the Hudson River, on which was a very old house, said to have been built by a Van Cortlandt (probably his grandfather). This house fell down some thirty years ago. I remember the colonial style mantels still in it at that time. The house stood between Broadway and Riverdale Avenue, with terraces and boxwood hedges, toward the east. On the south side of the land was a long heavy stone wall, some of which is no doubt there to this day. . .

        The residence stood on the slope of the hill with a view of the River and at this house, Washington Irving was a friend and frequent visitor. Nearer the Hudson on what was called the “Knoll,” was a cottage built by my father, Charles Suydam.

        According to that genealogy, Abraham Schermerhorn’s wife was a Van Cortlandt and his children married into the Irving, Astor, Bayard, and Suydam families.  Yet another prominent old New York family with ties to Riverdale.

      • #3367
        Thomas Casey

          There are and were a few places in Riverdale called   “The Knoll’s”.  There is one with the legal address at 6030 Spencer Ave, Bronx 10471 but is best viewed from Huxley Ave at W. 260th.  I attached a photo from 1901.6030 Spencer Ave, Bronx, NY 10471

        • #3368
          Thomas Casey

            6030 Spencer Ave, Bronx, NY 10471

          • #3369
            Thomas Casey

              The Knolls Map

            • #3370
              Thomas Casey

                The Cedar knolls from a map by   Ceder KnollsMueller, A. H. 1907

              • #3371
                Thomas Casey

                  Knoolwood,  W 253rd   west of Post RoadKnollwood

                • #3373
                  Alan Lasky

                    I’m not sure when the property at 253rd became know as “Knollwood”, but for a time around 1902-1910, it was known as Nellcôte. Here is a long and involved story that has nothing to do with the original topic…

                    Samuel L. Goldenberg (1864-1936) was born into a family of lace importers, and spent time back and forth between NYC and France. The business was successful enough to allow him to pursue his interest in dog breeding.

                    In 1901, he married Nella Carlynne Sondheim, née Wiggins, and they purchased the property in Riverdale as a summer residence and a home for their dog kennels. They named the property Nellcôte, and Nellcote bulldogs were frequent winners at dog shows ca 1905.

                    Apparently they were spending more and more time in France, and at some point, purchased a villa there and gave up the Riverdale location, which apparently later became known as Knollwood.

                    The Goldenbergs brought the name Nellcôte to their villa in France, where it had a long storied career, including the Rolling Stones renting it to record Exile on Main St in 1972.

                    In April 1912, the Goldenbergs were traveling from France to the US so Samuel could be a judge at the  French Bull Dog of America show at the Waldorf Astoria. They booked first class tickets on the Titanic. They completed their voyage via lifeboat #5 and the Carpathia and made it to the dog show!

                    The house in Riverdale is now in and adjacent to the northbound lane of the Henry Hudson Parkway, so presumably was demolished ca 1935.

                    I learned all this when an author named Geir Hørnes contacted me on Facebook saying he was writing a book on the history of the villa in France, and was trying to locate the property in Riverdale that first had the name “Nellcôte”. I was able to find the Goldenbergs in the 1905 census in an unnumbered house on 253rd St, near Old Post Rd, that led to this map, where their property is labeled.
                    The book is now out, but I have not seen it. The focus is on the villa in France, but I’m sure the Riverdale location gets at least some mention, and I may have some kind of reference credit.


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