The village of Sleepy Hollow is the kind of cozy community where yesterday and today happily coexist. Think Philipsburg Manor, an 18th century mill and farm that was worked by slaves; the Old Dutch Church; Sleepy Hollow Cemetery; and, of course, Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” whose ungainly hero, Ichabod Crane, has been transformed by Hollywood into a hunky detective.
So it’s not surprising that one of its prominent houses — a stately stone affair with stunning views of the Hudson River — should have a colorful past and an equally engaging present.
“It’s an awesome house,” says owner David Fink, “a big, easy house.”
Indeed, from the moment you set foot in the sweeping hallway of Pokahoe — with its 18-foot barrel-vaulted ceiling supported by Doric columns and its commanding through-view to the river — your first and last thoughts are of spaciousness (elegantly punctuated by French doors). Whether you’re in the living areas, kitchen or dining room, all is light, airy and, yes, easy. And that is due to owners who have clearly married an enthusiasm for the house’s history — it is, after all, on the National Register of Historic Places — to the needs of a contemporary family.
As he talks, Fink — whose company, Think Fink, produces corporate events — pulls out books and newspaper clippings about the house and considers the role of the Dutch in New York’s financial destiny. His home doesn’t go back that far but rather to 1848 when it was built by James Watson Webb, a newspaper editor with diplomatic ambitions.
“He was quite a character,” Fink says. “He was trying to position himself for a diplomatic posting but one he liked — London or Paris.” According to correspondence with President Abraham Lincoln, Fink says, Webb turned down a chance to serve as U.S. envoy to the Ottoman Empire and instead wound up ambassador to Brazil.
His reversal of financial fortune led former New York City Mayor Ambrose C. Kingsland Sr. to buy the house for $25,000 in 1864. But Kingsland never lived in it and instead sold it to John C. Frémont (for whom Fremont, Calif. is named) and his wife, Jessie Benton Frémont. Talk about your characters. Frémont was a maverick — a Western trailblazer, a passionate abolitionist and a far-thinking, but insubordinate Civil War general who had been the first presidential candidate of the newly formed Republican Party in 1856, paving the way for the more temperate Lincoln. Mrs. Frémont was his equal, Fink says — an independent-minded, financially savvy woman in an era when women were expected to defer to their husbands. Despite this, the Frémonts, too, experienced financial difficulties and the house reverted to Kingsland.
It seems as if Pokahoe, as either Webb or Frémont named it in homage to the Indians, was destined to thrive only to sputter. In 1928, the house became part of Sleepy Hollow Manor Inc., which fizzled during the Depression. By World War II, the three-story manse, which had 14 fireplaces, had fallen into disrepair, becoming a ranch-style home in the 1950s.
Enter Mary Butler-Fink, David Fink’s wife. She and her first husband bought the house in 2002. (The house, Fink says, was actually under contract to someone else who failed to show for the closing, which was on Sept. 11, 2001.) Working with architect Tom Felton of Studio 511, Butler-Fink and her then husband spent 18 months and more than $1.2 million on a restoration-renovation of the house — raising ceilings, adding a second floor, piecing together fireplaces with marble that had been discarded on the site and painting the home in historical colors (pale yellows and greens, blues in various hues.)
At the same time, Pokahoe has a host of modern amenities, Fink says — five air-conditioning zones, a modern kitchen; four up-to-date baths, including a spacious one in the dreamy deep-blue master suite; and plenty of storage space, particularly in the basement, which contains an intimate wine cellar. It is in the basement where the past really comes alive as Fink tours you through spaces in which the kitchen, day stable and slaughterhouse were located.
A former partner in Broadstreet — the corporate communications arm of Drexel Burnham Lambert that was spun off into an independent company after Drexel’s 1990 bankruptcy — Fink went to high school on Long Island with Butler-Fink, with whom he was friendly but not romantic. A reunion enabled them to get better acquainted, and they became a couple in 2004.
Now the couple is looking to relocate to eastern Long Island, and has listed Pokahoe with Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty at a price of $3,095,000.
And, perhaps, take on another historical project?
Says Fink with a smile, “I would love to.”
This article was reprinted from the November issue of Wag magazine, the sister publication of the Westchester County Business Journal.