Washington Irving Memorial
Jennie Prince Black, a prominent citizen of Irvington, began to push for the establishment of a public memorial to Washington Irving in 1909. At the time, Irving's home, Sunnyside, was still owned by the Irving family and was not accessible to the public. Mrs. Black formed a committee to plan for the monument, and her persistence paid off in 1924 when enough funds had been raised to pay for it. Designed by Charles A. Platt and featuring sculptures by Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial, the monument was not completed and dedicated until 1927 due to construction problems and financial difficulties. The monument features as bust of Irving as well as two characters from his stories, Rip Van Winkle and Boabdil. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.
Backstory and Context
After renowned author Washington Irving died in 1859, his home remained in the Irving family as a private residence, and thus was not accessible to the public. After a making an address at Irvington Village Hall during the 1909 commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Irving's death, Jennie Prince Black (1868-1945), a prominent citizen of Irvington, was moved by an internal voice to lead a movement to create a public memorial to the author:
"I was suddenly startled from my sleep by what seemed to be a voice....
'Now is the time!'
I replied, 'Now is the time for what?'
And the voice seemed to answer back, 'For the fulfillment of your dream: the Memorial to Irving....You who have been here since childhood can arouse the interest of one and all to do this work.'"
Mrs. Black resided at Dearman, a home on the west side of Broadway just south of Sunnyside Lane. She spent the next 15 years leading the effort to raise funds for the memorial. It was not until 1924 that she was able to commission Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the statue of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., to design sculptures for the memorial. Mrs. Black was also able to hire architect Charles Adams Platt to design the site plan. French made three sculptures for the memorial: a bust of Irving about the age of 35, a relief of Rip Van Winkle, and a relief of Boabdil, King of Granada, who appeared in Irving's The Alhambra. The bust and the two reliefs were attached to the central panel of the memorial, which is flanked on both sides by lower, curved wing walls. The panel and the walls are made of Vermont granite.
Mrs. Black and her committee hoped to place the memorial at the intersection of Broadway and Sunnyside Lane. However, the Irving family objected to this location, as they feared the memorial would lead to an increase in the number of souvenir hunters and tourists who came to their property. The committee tried without success to find another location for the memorial, and eventually the Irving family relented. The Washington Irving Memorial was unveiled on June 27, 1927. The cord that removed the veil was pulled by Washington Irving, a great-great-nephew of the author. The memorial was restored in 1998 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.
Larson, Neil. National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form: Washington Irving Memorial. June 1, 2000.
"Washington Irving Memorial Unveiled." The Yonkers Statesman (Yonkers, N.Y.) June 27th 1927. 6.
Williams, Gray. Picturing Our Past: National Register Sites in Westchester County. Elmsford, N.Y. Westchester County Historical Society, 2003.
Westchester County Historical Society. Photo by Gray Williams.