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Wilderstein

The history of Wilderstein begins in 1852 with Thomas Holy Suckley's purchase of the river front site, then a sheep meadow of the adjacent late 18th century estate, Wildercliff. Suckley's fortune had been secured through the family export trade and real estate investments. He was a descendant of the Beekman and Livingston families whose estate houses were prominent landmarks in this region of the Hudson River Valley from the 17th through the late 19th centuries.

Thomas Suckley and his wife Catherine Murray Browne wanted a building site endowed with striking natural features in the best traditions of the picturesque aesthetic. The landscape setting for Wilderstein fulfilled this criteria by virtue of its varied terrain and the scenic views it afforded of the river and distant mountains --- the vistas framed by tall cedars and evergreens.

Suckley named the property "Wilderstein" (wild man's stone) in reference to a nearby Indian petroglyph, an allusive reminder of a cultural heritage that preceded European settlements in the region.

In 1983, Miss Margaret Lynch Suckley, daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Suckley, donated the house and 35 acre grounds to Wilderstein Preservation, a not-for-profit educational corporation. Active since 1980, the organization is dedicated to preserving and interpreting the architecture, interior design, collections, landscape and natural open space of this significant site. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Wilderstein is a major feature of the Hudson River National Landmark District.

The original Italinate villa designed by John Warren Ritch was remodeled and enlarged in 1888 by Thomas's son Robert Browne Suckley and his wife, Elizabeth Philips Montgomery. Poughkeepsie architect Arnout Cannon was hired to transform the two story villa into an elaborate Queen Anne style country house. The structure now soared upward with the addition of a third floor, multi-gabled attic and a dramatic five story circular tower with a commanding view of the surrounding landscape. The fanciful, asymmetrical skyline of the house was enhanced by the addition of an imposing porte-cochere and an expansive verandah.

The fashionably appointed interiors were designed by the New York City decorator, Joseph Burr Tiffany. With the ground floor rooms executed in contrasting historic revival and aesthetic movement styles, the interiors at Wilderstein offer a splendid microcosm of the decorative arts during this period of American design.

The self-conscious opulence of the newly remodeled Wilderstein was complimented by the Picturesque Landscape design of Calvert Vaux who laid out the grounds at Wilderstein according to the principles of the American Romantic Landscape style. The Vaux firm created an intricate network of drives, walks and trails adorned with specimen trees and ornamental shrubs. The landscape plan entailed well-chosen prospect points marked by rustic gazebos and sheltered garden seats. Eclectically designed out buildings were also erected during this period, ranging form a turreted carriage house to the Shingle style gate lodge and Colonial Revival style potting shed.

Until 1991 three generations of Suckleys occupied Wilderstein, amassing personal and ancestral effects that attest to the lively social history of the estate, its family and their relationship to the Hudson Valley. The books, letters, photographs, furniture, paintings, art objects and china - some ordinary and some exquisite - are intriguing to the scholar and the casual visitor alike.

Wilderstein mansion, grounds and trails are open to the public May through October, Thursday through Sunday 12:00-4:00, and for events as advertised.

A delightful tour of the house and grounds is conducted Thursday to Sunday 12:00-4:00.

Admission $8 for adults, $5 for students with ID. Children under 12 and grounds only, free. Tours for schools and special interest groups may be arranged by appointment.

Miss Margaret Lynch Suckley was the last family member to live in the house. Born at Wilderstein in 1891, she called it home until her death in 1991. Serving as archivist in the FDR Library, she worked with the President on his papers and often kept him company at Hyde Park, in Washington and on train trips. This quiet, good humored distant cousin whom he called "Daisy" was his close companion during WWII. She gave Roosevelt his famous Scottie Fala who usually accompanied the President when he came to Wilderstein for tea. Fala sired two puppies born to Button (Heather of Wilderstein), Daisy's dog. "The True Story of Fala", written by Margaret Suckley, describes Fala's life as the presidential dog. Daisy was with FDR when he was fatally stricken at Warm Springs, Georgia in 1945. She died at Wilderstein in 1991, her 100th year. Shortly thereafter friends cleaning her cluttered bedroom found a battered black suitcase beneath her bed. Inside the suitcase were Daisy's diaries and the letters which she and Roosevelt exchanged. They have been edited by Geoffrey C. Ward in his book "Closest Companion".

 

Living Valley Panoramas

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Directions

From the center of Rhinebeck, proceed south on Route 9 to first right, Mill Road. Turn onto Mill Road, East, and proceed 2.2 miles to Morton Road, (County Route 85). Turn right onto Morton Road and proceed one-quarter mile. Wilderstein entrance is on left.

Entrance Hall Front Door
Ground Floor Landing of Main Stairs First Parlour
Second Parlour Detail of Second Parlour
Kitchen Library
Dining Room Windows on Main Stariway
Detail of Second Floor Cornice Painting by Frederic Church
Griffen Lame on Main Stairway Griffen Andirons in Entrance Hall
Suckley Coat of Arms Window in Dining Room
Specifics on visiting Wilderstein were correct at time of publication. We would suggest that you confirm dates and times prior to your visit.
 
 
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