The Historical Society serving Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown is collaborating with The Hudson Independent in a series describing various local landmarks. This month’s focus is on an iconic structure that has served those faithful to its religious origin for more than a century and a half.
The Moller House at 828 South Broadway was built on land sold by the Weckquaesgeek Indians to Frederick Philpse in 1681. One hundred years later the tract’s ownership transferred to Jacob Van Tassel, an early Tarrytown settler.
In the 1840s-1890s with the completion of the Hudson River Railroad, affluent New York City families purchased land to establish estates along the Hudson, which they used primarily as summer homes. In 1854, Edmund Coffin a New York businessman commissioned the construction of several local buildings, including a stone mansion at the corner of Sunnyside Lane and what was then referred to as the Highland Turnpike and now called South Broadway.
The first owner, William Moller, named his new home The Cedars. An emigrant of Germany, William became a successful sugar merchant. He also invented the “sugar loaf machine,” used in producing sugar cubes.
During construction, the builders of the house used blue-gray stone also known as gneiss, which had been quarried from the northeast corner of the property. The gothic revival style of the home was later referred to by Charles Tennyson, son of the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson, as “Georgian in gothic dress.” When completed, five red brick chimneys flanked each side of the house and the angular roof was made of gray slate. The distinctive Moorish windows, wide balconies and large terraces were key features of the house. It is easy to imagine horse drawn carriages leaving guests at the port cochere, the portico–styled structure at the entrance of The Cedars.
On the ground floor, a 50-foot, grand central hallway with oak flooring was flanked with arched doorways to each of the main rooms, one of which still contains a massive fireplace. The high ceilings were edged with intricate moldings depicting bunches of grapes. The upstairs provided bedrooms for the Moller family, which in addition to William included his mother, his wife, and their six children. The staff was comprised of a governess, a cook, three household workers, and a coachman.
Neighbors included the railroad baron Jay Gould and the founder of a five and ten cent store chain, J.J. Newberry. Another neighbor was author Washington Irving, who celebrated his last birthday at The Cedars in 1859. Albert Bierstadt, a member of the Hudson River School of painting, purchased the eastern part of the estate in 1860 and constructed a 35-room mansion, which was later destroyed in a fire.
`The property initially had an Irvington mailing address, but became part of Tarrytown in 1870 when the village incorporated. William eventually transferred the smaller property to his brother Peter, who died in 1879. Peter Moller’s estate sold The Cedars in 1882 for $60,000. At that time, the locals referred to the area as Moller’s Corner.
In 1908 John Daniell, Jr. a retailer and trustee of the New York and Albany Railroad bought the property. Before the razing of the original Grand Central Depot in 1908, Daniell acquired a bronze and marble eagle, similar to the eagle at the Philipse Manor railroad station, and placed it on his expansive lawn. He changed the name of the property from The Cedars to Eagle Nest. He also removed the original gingerbread trim and replaced it with post and beam detail. The family maintained a large vegetable garden and a vineyard. The latter purportedly produced enhanced grape juice throughout the period of Prohibition. When John Daniel died in 1927 his son Griswold sold the property.
The new owner, John Perry, a newspaper and pulp paper company owner changed the name of the house for the third time to Aldworth, after the Tennyson’s home in Surrey, England. Perry expanded the plantings on the property and apparently had a phobia or just a natural dislike for eagles, as he allegedly smashed the Grand Central eagle with a sledge hammer and pulverized it. When asked by a son “Where did the eagle go?” he reportedly answered “He flew away!” When Perry died in 1952, the ownership transferred to one of his companies and since then the house has been owned by a series of corporations.
The Historical Society of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow Inc. thanks the Moller House’s current owner, Diamond Properties, for their assistance preparing this column.