So begins Washington Irving’s classic tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” published in 1820. Tarrytown House Estate is perched high on a hill above Sunnyside, the famed author’s home, an area rich with history and folklore. In addition to Sunnyside, visitors to “Sleepy Hollow Country” enjoy touring Kykuit, the Rockefeller family estate in Pocantico Hills; Lyndhurst, once the home of financier Jay Gould; and Philipsburg Manor, a colonial farm.
Upon arrival at Tarrytown House Estate, guests immediately sense they are someplace very special. Located only 25 minutes outside New York City, the property has been in use for 180 years and hearkens back to a time when America was young. As the nation’s industrial and economic might grew, it produced a new breed of wealthy gentry who began calling Westchester County home in the 1800s.
“Uplands” was the name of the white porticoed Georgian home now called the King Mansion, which was built around 1840 by J. S. Cronise. The luxurious home had numerous owners until Thomas M. King, Vice President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, purchased it around 1900 (the B&O Railroad is most well-known today for appearing the in game Monopoly).
In 1895, William R. Harris, founder of the American Tobacco Company, bought the home sitting on the site of the current Biddle Mansion. He spent a small fortune taking granite from the surrounding area to create the structure we see today. Years later, Thomas King’s son Frederick married Harris’s daughter Sybil, who reigned as “queen” of both estates until 1921. In the same year, Mary Duke Biddle, of the Duke tobacco family from North Carolina and one of America’s richest women, purchased the granite mansion from the Harrises. She renamed her new estate “Linden Court,” in honor of the beautiful linden trees that adorn the property.
An avid sportswoman, Mrs. Biddle imported pink clay from France for her indoor tennis court; this building is still covered by the glass roof placed over the court in 1933. She also had a bowling alley installed on the lower level of the mansion and a golf tee built off the West Terrace. Mary Duke and her fun-loving husband, Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle (United States ambassador to Belgium and Spain), entertained with lavish parties.
Sybil and Frederick Harris lived in the King House as neighbors to Mrs. Biddle until Sybil’s death in 1955. It is believed that the former lady of the mansion continues to walk the halls of the second floor of the King House, as an apparition in white. In 1959, Mrs. Biddle purchased the King House and reunited the two estates. She passed away in 1960 and her children, Nicholas and Mary, took control of the property. They sold it to the African nation of Mali, which used it for a short time as a diplomatic retreat.
The property was acquired in 1964 by Robert Schwartz, a visionary and journalist who had served at one time as editor for Time magazine. Schwartz saw that corporate America needed a new type of lodging designed exclusively for business meetings. With encouragement from supporters at IBM and AT&T, he purchased what would be named Tarrytown House and set about inventing the nation’s first conference center.
Schwartz’s client list soon read like a who’s who of American business, attracted by a winning combination of excellent service and a tranquil environment that fostered ideas and problem-solving. He built a reputation for Tarrytown House as an intellectual center, bringing in such luminaries as artist Andy Warhol, actors Jack Lemmon and Charlton Heston, cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead and film critic Judith Crist. The innovation closest to Schwartz’s heart was a school for entrepreneurs, with Tarrytown House as the campus and he himself as the professor-in-charge.