Turning the spotlight on Wilderstein

Supporters of the Wilderstein Historic Site in Rhinebeck greatly appreciated the surge of interest in it after the movie “Hyde Park on the Hudson” was released earlier this year with actress Laura Linney as Margaret (Daisy) Suckley, the last resident of Wilderstein and a cousin and confidante of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Now they are hoping their current project helps to make the 40-acre estate on Morton Road an even better-known treasure in the Hudson Valley.

The Wilderstein campaign at hand now is “Save – Restore – Re-Imagine” the site’s Carriage House building. Phase 1 has been devoted to saving the physical structure, Phase 2 will be the process of restoration, and Phase 3 will be an adaptive re-use of the space for cultural and educational purposes. Approximately 75 percent of the goal of $500,000 for Phase 1 has been reached.

Gregory Sokaris, Executive Director of Wilderstein, explained the overall intent, “We want to restore the Carriage House of Wilderstein to look the way it did and re-use the space in a way that can be house more events and serve the public. Preservation and education are part of our mission. We are in Phase 1 of the fundraising now, which is to basically stabilize the building. There seems to be a lot of energy and excitement from people who have wanted to see us do this for some time.”

Beth Pagano, proprietor of The Grand Dutchess Bed and Breakfast in Red Hook, is serving her second term on the board and is very devoted to Wilderstein.

“It’s fundraising, it’s grant-writing, it’s volunteer efforts. My son is a member of Red Hook Boy Scout Troop 42, and they worked with our Landscaping Committee to clean things out of the Carriage House barn so we can show it to people and they can see the vision of what can happen. The board is really a dedicated, hardworking group. We really like each other a lot!” she said.

Mike DeCola is a former board member and, with Beth, now a member of the Carriage House Task Force. He owns the horse farm across the street from Wilderstein and very much appreciates what has been preserved: “It’s a family that didn’t throw anything away for 100 years. At this time, there’s no space to display that kind of resource, and the items are spectacular.”

The site’s collections, all original to the estate, include over 15,500 cataloged objects (three-dimensional objects, textiles, clothing, art and personal items); 30,000 photographs; over 12,400 books, sheet music, magazines and ephemeral items dating from 1540 to 1991.

Mike added, “Carriage House is a really important keystone to making what was contained here available. The physical stuff is incredible, but then there’s the whole life of the family and the time they lived in. The space at the Carriage House fits with the site, and what we’re going to be able to do is have an area where we can have all kinds of curated things going on that look at this family and the history of this area and the whole country at the time. It will be a really spectacular resource. What’s there is mind-boggling.”

Wilderstein also benefited last year from the publication of local author Cynthia Owen-Phillip’s book, “Wilderstein and the Suckleys,” which provided a concise and personal history of an amazing landmark.

Volunteers are welcome to work on this ongoing project in all its phases, such as the upcoming “Fall Landscape Days,” Oct. 19 and Nov. 9, to prepare the grounds for winter. The public should also make Wilderstein one of the upcoming holiday destinations for its magical “Holiday House Tours” and especially the “Yuletide Tea” on Dec. 14: a genteel afternoon affair in the “Downton Abbey” tradition.

330 Morton Road, Rhinebeck

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