By Margaret Berger
"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” --Cicero
If this proverb is true, than Chauncey Stillman was a happy man. In his lifetime Mr. Stillman built what most of us can only dream of having: a country estate, complete with gardens, private library, and interesting friends. Mr. Stillman worked closely with his architects and artists to create an environment of peace and tranquility, a perfect atmosphere for deep conversation or thoughtful solitude.
Mr. Stillman was a friend and patron to artists and intellectuals, such as painter Pietro Annigoni and historian Christopher Dawson, who frequently stayed at Wethersfield. There they shared ideas while surrounded by the tranquil beauty of the estate. Whenever Mr. Stillman had guests (which was often), he would spend time beforehand reading up on their interests, so as to be able to engage them in conversation. An avid book lover, he had a staircase installed in the library that led directly to the master bedroom.
Mr. Stillman’s favorite room was the library, where he spent many a happy hour.
But really, there is no better place to ruminate over a good book than a garden. All book-lovers are acquainted with the inner turmoil a gripping novel provokes, and a garden is the perfect place to wander around and sort out muddled thoughts. A well-designed garden harbors a meditative atmosphere. The gardens of Wethersfield are classical Italian formal gardens, a style designed to order the mind and soothe the soul.
By the end of his life Mr. Stillman’s private library contained over 2,000 books, and the gardens—to which he had dedicated over 25 years of work in shaping—covered 10 acres. Mr. Stillman left his estate in the hands of his own private foundation so that the public might enjoy what he had spent a lifetime creating. The gardens are open for visitors from 12:00-5:00pm on [Thursdays], Fridays, and Saturdays, and the house and carriage collection may be seen at these times by appointment.
by Theresa Scott
It was love of beauty for beauty's sake which informed Chauncey Devereux Stillman's passion for carriage driving. Visitors to Wethersfield are first introduced to this sport in the Carriage House at the entrance to the estate. This elegant brick construction holds Mr. Stillman's carriage collection. A result of years of dedication, the collection boasts 22 antique carriages, fully restored and in working order.
In the sport of driving, the horses themselves are as much on show as the carriages. The horse pulling the carriage is the first aspect to be noticed, and sets the entire mood. Mr. Stillman selected Hackneys to be the horse of choice for the Wethersfield stables.
In the Spring 1965 edition of The Carriage Journal, Mr. Stillman wrote:
"You have asked me why I own Hackney Horses?... The Hackney was my unhesitating choice... My reasoning was that, since in this degenerate era and in my vicinity, the horse has no actual utility I had might as well choose an animal that gave joy by its sheer beauty, dazzle, and spirit."
Elegance aside, the Hackney stands apart in the carriage world, because it is bred to have a high-stepping gait. This unique leg motion can be sustained for long periods, and provides a smooth, safe, and elegant ride.
Mr. Stillman worked closely with Colonel Paul Downing, founding editor of The Carriage Journal, in selecting carriages and equipment. The result of this collaboration is one of the most diverse collections in the country. The carriages range from the rare Skeleton Brake, a towering vehicle used for training new horses, to the elegant low-lying Barouche, which brought Her Royal Highness Princess Anne to the opening ceremonies of the Royal Winter Fair in 1974. This was one of the many public events of the 60's and 70's at which Wethersfield carriages made an appearance.
Later in life, Mr. Stillman reserved his carriages for private use. Driving daily about the 20 miles of Wethersfield trails was his passion. Houseguests were taken out as a matter of course, and Mr. Stillman hosted several carriage drives for fellow enthusiasts on his hilly, picturesque property.
Mr. Stillman desired education about carriages to be part of Wethersfield’s legacy. On open days, the public is regularly welcomed to enjoy the beauty of the carriages and learn about the wold of driving. On August 20th, there is a special opportunity to see carriages as they are meant to be used. In the tradition of Mr. Stillman's long dedication to carriage driving, Wethersfield will host an exhibition featuring drivers from around the Hudson Valley. Visitors will be able to see a variety of carriages and teams execute a course on one of the main lawns. A number of different kinds of horses, carriages and turnouts will be on display. Set among the lovely tableaux on the estate, this event is not to be missed.
by Isabel Anderson
The three-acre formal garden at Wethersfield designed by Evelyn Poehler draws visitors from near and far, dazzling spectators with architecture, statuary, colors, lines, and different blooms and beauties throughout the year. While every turn shows a breathtaking view, a focal point of the garden has been the large hedge of white cedar trees, known as an allée. French for "path," this landscaping term refers to a border of trees forming an avenue that focuses on a highlight of a garden. In the case of the Wethersfield Allée, the centerpiece was a fountain topped with the bronze "Naiad" statue designed by Carl Milles.
The Arborvitae Allée at Wethersfield was planted in 1957. At its height, this wall of white cedar measured 24 feet tall and 190 feet long, making it one of the most sizable allées in the world. Wethersfield Estate Manager Kevin Malloy remembers Mr. Stillman referring to the Allée as "the great green wall of Dutchess County." Pietro Annigoni, the Italian portrait painter who frescoed two rooms of the Main House, made an oil sketch of the allée. This sketch served as the inspiration for his "Wethersfield Dreamscape." (Both paintings are displayed in the living room of the House.)
After half a century of elegance, the soft cedar wood of the Arborvitae Allée began to break down. In the winter of 2011, early snows and an ice storm fell several trees. The remaining trees also suffered damage. Rather than working against time and the natural lifespan of the original Arborvitae trees, and to ensure the enjoyment of many generations to come, preparation was made to plant a new allée.
In October 2015, the old Allée was taken down, and by Spring 2016, 88 new young trees had been planted. These Arborvitae will grow to the grandeur of the original Allée, and preserve the beauty of Wethersfield Garden for years to come.