- Suckley Family
- House and Grounds
- Daisy Suckley
Originally from Sheffield, England, George makes his fortune in the US as merchant, owner of steamboats, and ultimately landowner in New York City, the Hudson Valley, New Jersey, and Ohio.Above, detail from a miniature portrait of George Suckley
September 22, 1799
George Suckley and Catherine Rutsen are married at her childhood home, The Homestead in Rhinebeck, New York, by the Reverend Freeborn Garrettson. Catherine does not come to the marriage empty-handed; she has inherited portions of the Beekman Patents from her father, John Rutsen. The couple settles in New York City.
Above, a portrait of Catherine Rutsen as a young woman
June 6, 1850
Thomas is the youngest child of George and Catherine Suckley. Both Thomas and Catharine are descended from the Beekman and the Livingston families, two of the original landholding “river families” who owned property up and down the Hudson in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Above, Catharine in mid-life
August 14, 1852
Thomas buys 32 acres with spectacular views of the Hudson River. The land is part of the Wildercliff property owned by his distant cousin, Mary Rutherford Garrettson. The first house at Wilderstein is designed by John Warren Ritch in the popular Italianate style. It is ready for occupancy by November 1853.
Above, an architectural elevation of the original house at Wilderstein
June 5, 1856
Robert is Thomas and Catharine’s second son. He is born at Wilderstein.
Above, Robert Suckley age 5
October 22, 1884
Robert and Elizabeth (Bessie) are both descendants of the Beekman and Livingston families. After their wedding in New York City, the couple leave on an extended honeymoon in Europe. They spend most of the next two years in Switzerland.
Above, Bessie and Robert at the time of their marriage
August 16, 1885
Robert and Bessie’s first child, Rutsen Suckley is born in Switzerland. During their first nine years of marriage, Robert and Bessie have seven children: Rutsen (1885), Henry (1887), Robin (1888), Arthur (1890), Margaret (Daisy) (1891), and twins Katharine and Elizabeth (1893).
Above, (from left) Henry and Rutsen Suckley
Robert, Bessie, and baby Rutsen return to the United States from their two year honeymoon in Europe. The young family initially settles in Orange, New Jersey.
Above, the Suckleys’ home on Highland Avenue
February 9, 1888
Thomas Holy Suckley dies at Wilderstein at age 77. Robert is his only surviving child and inherits the Suckley family fortune, including the house that Thomas built at Wilderstein.
Above, Thomas’s last will and testament
Within a month of his father’s death, Robert begins plans to greatly expand the house and grounds at Wilderstein, using the latest technology and styles. He hires Arnout Cannon, Jr. of Poughkeepsie as the architect. Rather than tear down the previous house, Robert builds his new house around the first house, completely enveloping the original structure in a massive Queen Anne style mansion.
Above, Cannon’s design detail for the mansion’s porch
Arnout Cannon is the designer and Robert A. Decker of Rhinebeck the contractor for a 10,000-square-foot carriage house. Like the mansion, the carriage house is also in the popular Queen Anne style with lavish aesthetic movement decoration. In the early years, it is referred to simply as the “stable.” When the family acquires their first automobile in 1906, it becomes the “garage.”
Above, detail of the carriage house roof and cupula
Cannon designs the boathouse in a simple rustic style to store Robert’s launch and iceboats. It is located on the shoreline just west of the railroad tracks.
Above, the boathouse in winter
December 24, 1888
Joseph Burr Tiffany, nephew of Louis Comfort Tiffany, designs the mansion’s first floor rooms in a variety of historical styles: the entry hall and dining room are English Jacobean, the formal “white and gold” salon is Louis XVI, the library is Flemish Medieval, and the parlor is American Colonial. Tiffany agrees to complete the work in four months.
Above, Tiffany’s detail for the dining room
A Lord & Burnham greenhouse with rose house and vinery and attached potting house is erected at one end of a large garden area on the east side of the estate. The potting house is in the American Colonial style. In selecting Lord & Burnham, the Suckleys are in good company. The firm also designed the greenhouses at Ferncliff, the John Jacob Astor estate in Rhinebeck.
Above, correspondence between Robert and Lord & Burnham
April 19, 1890
Calvert Vaux, his son Downing Vaux, and Samuel Parsons, Jr. visit Wilderstein for the first time, and Robert hires them to design the grounds. Calvert Vaux along with his partner Frederick Law Olmsted is best known for designing Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
Above, a letter to Robert from Downing Vaux regarding their visit
The simple, shingle-style gate lodge is a two-story residence for the estate caretaker, located on Morton Road just northwest of the mansion. The lodge’s first resident is Charles Halley.
Above, Vaux’s design for the front elevation of the Gate Lodge
August 5, 1890
Rutsen Suckley dies after a brief illness, just short of his fifth birthday. His belongings are carefully preserved by the family.
Above, little Rutsen’s empty chair in Wilderstein’s parlor
January 12, 1891
Electricity is generated by a power plant constructed on Landsman Kill just east of the estate. The power plant supplies electricity to both Wilderstein and the neighboring estate at Wildercliff.
Above, two architectural elevations for the “turbine house”
March 17, 1891
The landscaping and road work continues throughout 1892 and 1893.
Above, Vaux’s original landscape plan for Wilderstein
December 20, 1891
The Suckley’s fifth child – and first girl – is born at Wilderstein. She is named Margaret but is often called by her nickname, Daisy.
Above, Daisy and her older brothers (from left): Robin, Daisy, Arthur, and Henry
February 20, 1893
The financial panic of 1893 begins when the Reading Railroad in Pennsylvania is put into receivership. Ultimately, the 1893 panic and resulting financial downturn greatly reduce Robert’s income from securities and real estate.
Above, artifacts of an expensive lifestyle: Robert’s bills and property tax receipts from Rhinebeck, New York City, and New Jersey
April 28, 1897
Robert, Bessie, their six children (Henry, Robin, Arthur, Daisy, Betty, and Katharine), two nursemaids, and two of Bessie’s sisters sail for Antwerp on the steamship Westernland. The family can live more economically in Europe.
Above, the “Saloon Class” passenger list from the SS Westernland
After stopping in Geneva, the family settles at the Pension Rosat, Chateau d’Oex in Switzerland. The pension becomes their primary home for the next 10 years, with the boys going away to various schools and Robert returning to the US occasionally for business.
Above, a skating party at Chateau d’Oex
During one of his periodic trips to New York from Europe, Robert buys his first of many automobiles, an Orient Buckboard for $425. He immediately sends the car via boat to Wilderstein. Enthused by all forms of motorized travel, Robert buys a Columbia motorcycle during the same trip. When he returns to Switzerland, he brings the motorcycle with him.
Above, Robert in the Orient Buckboard in front of the neighboring estate, Wildercliff
Henry (Robert and Bessie’s oldest surviving son) is accompanied by his father from Europe to the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. It is his first time back in the US since he was 10 years old. In the next few years, Robin and Arthur follow, and both head to Phillips Exeter for school. After prep school, all of the Suckley boys attend Harvard. Only Henry graduates.
Above, Henry Suckley (on right) with some school-age friends
October 10, 1907
The Suckleys leave the Pension Rosat in Switzerland for the last time. From this point on, Wilderstein will be their primary residence. Robert returns to Switzerland for two months each year for winter sports.
Above, Wilderstein around the time of the Suckleys’ return
September 25, 1909
The celebration, which includes multiple events up and down the river between New York and Albany, commemorates the 300th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery of the Hudson River and the 100th anniversary of Robert Fulton’s successful application of the paddle steamer on the river. The Suckleys view some of the festivities from the deck of the Astor yacht, Nourmahal. At Wilderstein, Robert installs a 26-foot high flagpole on the roof of the house as a salute to the celebration.
Above, a commemorative postcard from the celebration
April 15, 1912
Astor, an anchor of the local “river families” was a personal friend of Robert. The two socialized and served together in leadership roles for the Church of the Messiah in Rhinebeck. Robert recorded the tragedy and the events leading up to Astor’s funeral in his journal:
April 17: “Papers today gave no hope of Astor’s survival from the wreck of the Titanic.”
April 18: “The Carpathia with Titanic survivors arrived at the Cunard pier this evening.”
April 20: “Attended vestry meeting at 11:30 [at the Church of the Messiah]. Passed resolution of praise & condolence for Astor. Also resolved not to elect a successor as warden for 6 mos.”
April 21: “Memorial service for dead of Titanic as ordered by Bishop Greer. A wreath hung on end of Col. Astor’s pew.”
May 2: “Mrs. Astor sent down word by telephone that the funeral of Col. Astor would be at noon on Sunday at the Church of the Messiah.” [the funeral actually occurred on Saturday]
May 4: “John J. Astor’s funeral at noon.”Above, several pages from Robert’s journal from April and May 1912
She loves college and excels in her studies but attends for only two years per her mother’s wishes.
Above, Daisy (left) with a college friend
January 31, 1915
Like many other Harvard men, Henry joins the American Ambulance Field Service (now the AFS) to serve the allied war effort before the US enters the war. He sails to France as a member of the all volunteer ambulance corps.
Above, an AFS ambulance unit
After coming home on a brief leave from the war, Henry returns to Europe to take up command of a 25-car ambulance unit. His unit is deployed to Albania in December.
Above, Henry (at far right) with his ambulance unit
March 19, 1917
He is killed in Albania when he is struck by an aerial bomb fragment. At the time of his death, he is engaged to be married and is the heir apparent to lead the Suckley family in the 20th century.
Above, Henry’s grave in the military cemetery at Koritza, Albania
Arthur sails for France and seeks work with the Red Cross. Robin enlists as a reservist in the National Guard and is called up for duty.
Above, Robin (left) and Arthur in uniform
September 9, 1918
The couple met the year before when Betty, Daisy, and their mother spent several months in North Carolina while Robin was in basic training. She is the only one of the six Suckley children to marry. During the next six years she has three children: a son, Robert, and two daughters, Catherine and Margaret.
Above, the wedding party at Wilderstein
November 5, 1918
According to Robert’s Journal, Bessie and her daughter Betty had registered to vote in Rhinecliff the previous May. New York State granted women the right to vote in 1917, and the New York Gubernatorial in 1918 was the first statewide election in which women could vote.
Above, members of the new electorate: (clockwise from top left) Betty, Daisy, Helen Langdon, Katharine, Kittie Hammersley, and Peg Montgomery
November 11, 1918
At the close of the war, Robin is serving in the Army and Arthur in the Red Cross. Robin stays in Europe for the next several months, returning home in 1919. Arthur settles in France for several years.
Above, Arthur’s letter to his father describing the scene in Paris after the armistice
January 3, 1921
No one in the family can imagine Wilderstein without him. With Robert’s death, the Suckley family fortunes and Wilderstein begin a steady decline.
Above, Robert, late in life, on the porch at Wilderstein
Sara Delano Roosevelt asks Daisy to come to Springwood, the Roosevelt home in Hyde Park, to keep her son company while he recuperates from polio. FDR and Daisy are sixth cousins and share a love for the river and the Hudson Valley. They continue to see each other sporadically through the 1920s.
Above, the genealogy chart FDR drew for Daisy showing how they are related
March 4, 1933
After he becomes president, FDR corresponds and visits with Daisy on a regular basis. She is a frequent guest at Springwood in Hyde Park and at the White House, and FDR comes to tea at Wilderstein. She becomes one of the president’s closest confidants.
Above, Daisy’s invitation to FDR’s first inaugural
May 1, 1933
To make ends meet and support the financial needs of the family and Wilderstein, Daisy becomes a paid companion for her Aunt Sophie Langdon, splitting her time between her Aunt’s residences in New York City and Mansakenning, her country house in Rhinebeck.
Above, Sophie (center, front) with some of her many relatives in front of Mansakenning; Arthur Suckley is at the far right
November 30, 1935
The Suckley boathouse, one of the original structures designed by Arnout Cannon in 1888, burns to the waterline.
Above, the boathouse with the tracks of the New York Central railroad in the foreground
FDR and Daisy collaborate on plans for what will ultimately become Top Cottage, a private retreat for FDR to use after his presidency. The cottage is located on a hill in Hyde Park that is a favorite of FDR and Daisy. The two trade letters with ideas and drawings for the little house in late 1937 and early 1938. Top Cottage would be completed in June, 1939.
Above, a letter from Daisy to FDR with her sketches for the cottage
June 11, 1939
Daisy attends a picnic lunch given by FDR for George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England at Top Cottage. It is the first visit of a reigning English monarch to the US. The Roosevelts introduce the King and Queen to hot dogs and entertain them with a program of Native American dancing. This was not Daisy’s first experience with the King and Queen; she had attended King George’s coronation in London two years before.
Above, Daisy’s annotated snapshot of some of the attendees
FDR names his new dog Fala. Fala becomes the most celebrated presidential pet in history.
Above, Daisy’s snapshot of FDR and Fala in the Oval Office
August 3, 1941
Sophie’s death frees Daisy from the daily responsibility of caring for her aunt but the loss of income makes money issues more difficult.
Above, Sophie late in life
September 6, 1941
FDR comes to tea at Wilderstein and announces to the family that Daisy will be an archivist at the new FDR Library in Hyde Park. In a letter to FDR soon after her appointment, Daisy writes, “I do so love my job – every minute of it – and I can’t yet realize it is I, M.L.S. who drives there every day, who has her own bunch of keys to secret places, and who has the right to go in & out all doors.”
Above, Daisy at her desk in the Library
June 19, 1942
Daisy describes her first encounter with Churchill in her journal:
“I stood looking out through the front door. In a minute or two a pair of gray legs appeared on the top step, followed by Mr. Churchill, short & round, his eyes very blue. Seeing a strange woman, he stopped on the lower stair landing & examined a painting…. He turned & came down the last two steps — he smiled — I smiled. We shook hands — I introduced myself — We wandered down the hall to the Library. He has never been here before — was interested in everything — We wandered back to the hall –Harry Hopkins appeared. Then Com. Thompson, then James Martin, Secretary. We all wandered to the enclosed porch. Lunch was announced, & we all stood up for the P.M. to go through the door first. He stopped for me; so I went through! The P. was waiting at the door of the dining room, Miss Tully with him. We all went in.”
Above, three pages from Daisy’s journal giving a detailed account of the event, including a seating diagram on the third page
April 12, 1945
Daisy is with FDR when he dies and gives a detailed account of the president’s last days in her journal. After the funeral, Daisy takes Fala to Wilderstein for a short time and then at the request of FDR’s family, she returns him to Hyde Park to live with Eleanor Roosevelt. Fala dies in 1952 and is buried near his master.
Above, “FALA WAITS AT GRAVE,” Daisy’s news clipping from the funeral
December 25, 1953
She survived her husband Robert by nearly 33 years.
Above, two views of family life in the later years:
Bessie plays chess in Wilderstein’s parlor as Arthur looks on
Bessie and Arthur on Wilderstein’s porch
September 24, 1954
To improve the family’s finances and reduce the maintenance required for Wilderstein, the Suckleys sell the gate lodge to Gladys Freeman, a friend of the family. Gladys expands the building to make it more livable. (The gate lodge is added back into the estate by Wilderstein Preservation in 1986.)
Above, the expanded gate lodge in 1983
In a letter signed by each of FDR’s children, they thank her for her service: “We know full well how much it would have meant to Father to know that you stayed with the library during these years, making so many contributions which only you could make because of your long and close association with him.”
Above, the letter to Daisy from FDR’s children: Anna, Jimmy, Elliott, Franklin, and John
April 24, 1980
Daisy establishes the not-for-profit organization which is charged with restoring and maintaining Wilderstein and its grounds as a historic house museum. She retains the right to live in the house until she dies. “I hope it is going to be of use.” she says, “I hope it’s going to be preserved for what is worth preserving in it.”
Above, Daisy (right) and her sister Betty recording an introductory video about Wilderstein
February 21, 1987
Katharine, Robin, and Arthur had died in the 1970s. With Betty’s death, Daisy is the only surviving Suckley sibling.
Above, Betty in front of Wilderkill, her house just east of Wilderstein
June 29, 1991
Daisy dies at Wilderstein, in the same house where she was born nearly 100 years before. Within the next 20 years, her sister Betty’s children will all pass away leaving no offspring; they are the last descendants of Robert and Bessie Suckley. The Suckley family legacy lives on at Wilderstein Historic Site.
Above, the Suckley monument in Rhinebeck Cemetery