The area now called Irvington was originally populated by the Weckquaskeck Indians who lived in the area as late as 1775. The first European settlers were Dutch, but the area was taken over by the English in 1664.
There were four known original settlers in the area. Stephen Ecker, came from Holland in about 1650 to work for the Dutch West India Company and established a plantation on the present Sunnyside site. About thirty years later, his wife’s uncle, Jan Harmse, cleared land on the southwest side of the present Dows Lane, where his house (later known as Odell Tavern) still stands. (left) Shortly before 1700, Captain John Buckhout settled near the river where the present Trent Building stands and Barent Dutcher established a farm on what is now Matthiessen Park.
The settlers who came in during the early 1700’s were mostly artisans – coopers, blacksmiths and shipbuilders. Their chief means of transportation was the river. However, in 1703, the Queen’s highway, named for Queen Anne, was built from New York City to Albany, When George I became King, the road was renamed the King’s Highway.
After the battle of White Plains in 1776, British and Hessian soldiers were encamped on the Odell and Buckhout farms. Hessian soldiers partially destroyed the Dutcher house, and the British galleys fired on and burned the old Echer house in the winter of 1777. By the war's end, hardly a tree, fence, or building was left standing in this vicinity.
After the Revolution, the four original farms were divided. In 1817, Justus Dearman of New York bought one-half of the Dutcher farm. A portion of the Dearman farmhouse, the first house in the village proper, still stands on the south side of Main Street near Broadway. Washington Irving purchased the Echar house that had been rebuilt after the war. He lived there until his death in 1859. Both his regional writings and his creation of Sunnyside as an “elegant little snuggery” had a lasting effect on the village. James Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, bought a portion of the Odell farm in 1837 and built “Nevis”, an estate named after the West Indies Island where his father had been born.
A Place Called Dearman
In 1848, Dearman sold his property to John Jay, a nephew of the Chief Justice, and Franklin C. Field. Field had the property laid out in lots as the Village of Dearman. In 1850, these lots were publically auctioned at the Merchants’ Exchange in New York. The village was called Dearman Town. The name was changed to Irvington in 1854.
Irvington developed rapidly in the latter half of the nineteenth century. In 1849, the railroad came to Irvington. From 1860 to 1890, the population increased from about 600 to over 2000. Through these decades Irvington increasingly became an area of wealthy estates. Among the names to be found here were Morgan, Field, Astor, Coffin, Cottenet, Tiffany, Bierstadt, Harriman, Barney, and Dows.
The village proper also saw many developments during these years, but physically it has changed little. The buildings in the village are chiefly either moderate-sized frame homes or small shops devoted to trade. Schools and churches were built. The Lord & Burnham Horticultural Architects & Builders, Irvington’s first industry, was established. In 1872, Irvington was incorporated as a village. A president and board of trustees were elected and the village boundaries, comprising 1,850 acres, were established. The organization of the village government has remained the same since that time. It was not until the 1920’s that the title president was changed to mayor. In the 1880’s the first firehouse was built, gaslights were installed on the street, and the waterworks were constructed.
In 1869, the property where Town Hall now stand was first developed as a circulating library by a local organization called The Mental and Mortal Improvement Society. Through the years the village needs grew and the society conveyed the property to the village with the condition that it maintains, in perpetuity, a library and reading room in the building.
Irvington Town Hall was built in 1902 from a design by local architect Albert J. Manning, who used an early Colonial Revival architectural style for the civic building. Financial assistance came from some of the wealthier residents. Frederick W. Guiteau, a member of the society, endowed the library with $10.000. Helen Gould, who had grown up in nearby Lyndhurst, contributed the cost of the interior furnishings and made Tiffany’s work possible. The building was home to the village government, the police department, the fire department, a library and theater. Town Hall became the center of Irvington’s public life. The 432 seat theater held many cultural events featuring village residents and visiting celebrities. In 1984, the building was listed on the National Register for Historic Places.
By the 1990’s the library was in need of space and had to comply with the American Disabilities Act. It moved into another local historic structure, the Lord and Burnham Building on South Astor Street. The reading room, called the “Tiffany Room”, remains in the Town Hall to fulfill the requirements of the original deed.