The history of Wilderstein begins with Thomas Suckley and his wife Catherine Murray Bowne, who sought a location for their country home endowed with striking natural features. The landscape setting at Wilderstein fulfilled this criteria by virtue of its varied terrain and scenic views of the Hudson River and distant mountains. The estate was named “Wilderstein” (wild man’s stone) in reference to an Indian petroglyph on the property, a reminder of the cultural heritage that preceded European settlement of the region.
The original Italianate country home designed by John Warren Ritch in 1852 was remodeled and enlarged in 1888 by Thomas’s son Robert Bowne 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 mansion. The renovated structure soared upward with the addition of a third floor, multi-gabled attic and a dramatic five story circular tower with commanding views of the surrounding landscape. The fanciful, asymmetrical roof line of the house was complimented by the addition of an imposing porte cochere and an expansive verandah.
Fashionably appointed interiors were created at that time by the New York City decorator Joseph Burr Tiffany. With the first floor rooms executed in contrasting historic revival and aesthetic movement styles, the interiors at Wilderstein offer a splendid microcosm of decorative arts during this period. The newly remodeled Wilderstein was further enhanced by the landscape design of Calvert Vaux, who laid out the grounds at Wilderstein according to the principles of American romantic style.
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 large collection of books, letters, photographs, furniture, paintings, art objects and china at Wilderstein are of great interest to both scholars and casual visitors.
The last resident of Wilderstein was Margaret (Daisy) Suckley. A distant cousin and confidante of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Miss Suckley traveled extensively with FDR during his presidency, gave him his famous black Scottish terrier Fala and helped to establish his library in Hyde Park. Miss Suckley was with FDR when he was fatally stricken at Warm Springs, Georgia in 1945. She died at Wilderstein in 1991, in her 100th year. Her diary and the letters they exchanged, which were discovered in a black battered suitcase at Wilderstein, provide one of the best resources for understanding the private side of Roosevelt’s life during this period.