A Brief History of Wave Hill
Wave Hill House was built as a country home in 1843 by jurist William Lewis Morris. From 1866-1903 it was owned by William Henry Appleton, who enlarged the house in 1866-69 and again in 1890. A publishing scion, Appleton brought to Wave Hill such pioneering natural scientists as Thomas Henry Huxley. Huxley was astounded by the site, declaring the Palisades across the river one of the world's greatest natural wonders.
Theodore Roosevelt's family rented Wave Hill during the summers of 1870 and ‘71, when the future president was a youth of 12 and 13. Teddy's time here significantly deepened his love of nature and love of the outdoors that would later prompt him to secure the preservation of millions of acres of American parkland.
Mark Twain leased the estate from 1901-1903, setting up a treehouse parlor in the branches of a chestnut tree on the lawn. Of winter at Wave Hill he wrote, I believe we have the noblest roaring blasts here I have ever known on land; they sing their hoarse song through the big tree-tops with a splendid energy that thrills me and stirs me and uplifts me and makes me want to live always.
In 1903, George W. Perkins, a partner of J.P. Morgan, purchased Wave Hill House. Since 1895 he had been accumulating properties to create a great estate along the river including Oliver Harriman's adjacent villa on the site of what is now Glyndor House. Perkins devoted much of his extraordinary energy to planning the grounds so as to enhance the property's magnificent vistas. To the garden and greenhouses built by Appleton, Perkins added greenhouses, a swimming pool, terraces and the recreational facility that we now call the Ecology Building. The land was graded and contoured, rare trees and shrubs were planted on the broad lawns, and gardens were created to blend harmoniously with the natural beauty of the Hudson River highlands. Across the river, Perkin's involvement at the inception of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission was pivotal in preserving the Palisades.
The Perkins family resided in Glyndor House and leased Wave Hill House to an eminent zoologist, Bashford Dean. Dean's hobby was collecting medieval European armor, and he built Armor Hall to house his remarkable collection. A selection of 197 choice pieces was subsequently donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Other famous residents of Wave Hill House have included the conductor Arturo Toscanini (1942-1945) and chief members of the British Delegation to the United Nations (1950-1956).
Wave Hill Today
In 1960, the Perkins-Freeman family deeded Wave Hill to the City of New York; Wave Hill, Inc., was formed in 1965 as a non-profit corporation. Today, as one of 33 City-owned cultural institutions, Wave Hill provides an oasis of serenity and offers programs in Horticulture, Environmental Education, Woodland Management and the Visual and Performing Arts. Through the arts and sciences, Wave Hill seeks to foster connections between people and nature.
Wave Hill House
Wave Hill House has been the home of not just one prominent family—but of many. Though unrelated, each successive resident shared an appreciation of Wave Hill's relationship to the Palisades, the Hudson River, and the estate's role in the preservation of Riverdale as a distinctive community.
The original house was built in Greek Revival style in 1843-44 by William Lewis Morris, a New York City attorney. The Morrises lived here until the death of Mrs. Morris in 1852. William Henry Appleton, a world renowned publisher, bought Wave Hill in 1866 from the Morris heirs. The Appletons used the place as a summer residence. It was leased in 1870-71 to New York banker Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. whose adolescent son developed a love of nature that endured through a lifetime as military hero, conservationist, Governor, and President. Another celebrated tenant, Mark Twain, made Wave Hill a social milieu of literary greats during 1901-03.
Financier George W. Perkins lived in Glyndor House. He bought Wave Hill House in 1903, and from 1909-1928 leased it to Dr. Bashford Dean, first curator of Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dean gained Perkins' approval to build the Armor Hall wing to house his collections. The wing was designed by Fieldston resident, architect Dwight James Baum. At the death of Dean's wife (Mary Alice Dyckman) in the 1950's, the choice pieces of the collection went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where they are still on view today.
The Perkins' daughter and son-in-law, the Edward W. Freemans, remodeled the house in 1933. They leased the house to the great maestro Arturo Toscanini from 1942-45; and to the chief British delegates to the UN, Sir Gladwyn Jebb and Sir Pierson Dixon, from 1950-56. In 1960, the Perkins and Freeman families gave the Wave Hill estate to the City of New York.
This house, in Georgian Revival style, is the third to stand on this magnificent site overlooking the Palisades. The first was a Victorian style villa built in the 1860's by the New York financier, Oliver Harriman, called Nonesuch. It was purchased in 1895 by George Walbridge Perkins (1862 -1920). Perkins and his wife, Evelina Ball, remodeled and enlarged the house to include guest rooms and a ballroom with the professional assistance of C. Grant La Farge, architect and son of the famous stained glass artist and designer. Perkins named the transformed house Glyndor (a combination of letters from the names of his family).
Perkins, with the help of architect Robert M. Byers, created greenhouses, an outdoor swimming pool and a two-story recreation building. The roof of this structure was covered with sod to provide a viewing platform, or terrace, to enjoy the Hudson River and the Palisades. An underground tunnel, lined with Guastavino tiles, connected Glyndor with the recreation building which contained a billiard room, bowling alley and squash court. The location of the recreation building may have been selected by Perkins to help prevent a future grid system of streets in the area; it is directly in the path of a projected street. The recreation building, now known as the Ecology Building, and its rooftop terrace still exist today. The design of the gardens and terraces was conceived, in part, to unify the three estates acquired over time by Perkins. The grey stone building, Wave Hill House, was on one of the parcels acquired by Perkins. Albert Millard, trained as a gardener in Vienna, worked with Perkins on the original layout of the grounds.
George W. Perkins died at the age of 58 in 1920. In 1926, the house was struck by lightning and severely damaged. Mrs. Perkins had it demolished. The present building, designed by New York architects Butler and Corse, rose on the site in a year's time. In 1960, the Perkins and Freeman families gave the Wave Hill estate to the City of New York.