Over a century old, the Wave Hill estate of Riverdale is one of New York City’s most beautiful parks. The property was first developed by William Lewis Morris, who named the estate Wave Hill. The Morris family resided at Wave Hill from 1843 to 1852. In 1865, the famous publisher William H. Appleton purchased the estate and used it as a summer residence until 1903. During Appleton’s time as proprietor, tenants included such figures as Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt. In 1903 Appleton sold the property to George W. Perkins (1862-1920) a wealthy conservationist who would become politically active in the expansion of area parks.
Perkins earned his reputation as an avid conservationist during the development of the Palisades Parkway, which threatened to turn the scenic Palisades into a highway. Perkins’s demands delayed the construction of a major road through the Palisades. He founded a group called the Palisades Interstate Parkway to ensure that despite the construction of a major highway, the Palisades would remain surrounded by vegetation and nature. Perkins was a strong advocate for the Bull Moose Party’s Teddy Roosevelt, who ran on a platform of progressive reform that included women’s suffrage and child labor laws in 1912. Perkins rallied conservationists behind Roosevelt, who lost despite registering more votes than any third party candidate in United States history.
Although Perkins’s political contributions to conservation in New York were significant, his legacy also endures in the estate he left behind. From the moment of his acquisition, Perkins worked relentlessly to beautify Wave Hill’s gardens and greenhouses. Perkins lived in the Glyndor House, which today houses galleries of sculpture and architecture. In 1927, the Perkins House was constructed as a second residential home on the property. An elegant edifice, the Perkins House is composed in Georgian style red brick, surpassed in its impressive structure only by its commanding view of the Palisades and the Hudson River.
The Perkins family would eventually lease the estate, and from 1950-56 the British delegates from the United Nations resided there. In 1962 the Perkins family made the decision to donate the estate to the City under the condition that it would not be used as biological research station by the City University, as the city had first planned. After assuming responsibility for maintenance of the estate in 1962 and naming it the Perkins Garden, Parks worked diligently to preserve the variety of plant life that remains remarkably unchanged since the development of the estate. Parks Commissioner Stern renamed the property Wave Hill in 1987.
Today Wave Hill boasts one of the most impressive arboretums in New York City, and its placement in the heart of Riverdale enhances the appearance of the entire neighborhood. Wave Hill receives approximately 65,000 visitors each year.
Upon entrance to the property, visitors are presented with a large garden and field that overlook the Hudson River. The Perkins House, now referred to as Wave Hill House, offers photography galleries and a café terrace that overlooks Riverdale Park. The greenhouse, known as the Flower Garden, contains a variety of peonies, roses, clematis, and hydrangeas. Overall, the stunning beauty of Wave Hill distinguishes it as one of the finest parks New York City has to offer.