Monday, July 6, 2020
Beyond the formal gardens, past sculpted terraces and ornate fountains, rises Wethersfield—the country estate of what was once one of America’s wealthiest families. There, among rolling hills 95 miles north of New York, a grandson of James Jewett Stillman, head of the bank that would grow into Citigroup Inc., envisioned his private Eden.
However, Stillman’s heirs are fighting to preserve their beloved Wethersfield. The estate, once thought to be safeguarded, is running dangerously low. Over the years, trustees of the Homeland Foundation entrusted to preserve Wethersfield trifled away millions, according to a state investigation.
Due to this financial tragedy, artworks collected by the late Chauncey Devereux Stillman, grandson of the family patriarch, are being placed on the auction block. The hope is that the proceeds will be enough to bring to life the founder’s vision and preserve Wethersfield—its house, gardens and trails—for the public good.
But the long arc of the Stillman fortune—worth an estimated $1.6 billion, in today’s dollars, when James Stillman died in 1918—is a cautionary tale for the growing number of families creating private investment vehicles and foundations to guard their wealth and legacy. One clear lesson: Pick trustees and money managers carefully.
See Katya Kazakina, New York Banking Legend's Heirs Are Unloading Art To Save Estate, Bloomberg, April 4, 2017.
Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.