Bliss in Blithewold
Many of us love the romanticism of aesthetically beautiful mansions. They inspire our senses, excite our inner child, and make everything feel sort of sublime.
Now that the warmer weather has arrived, you may want to consider a drive to Bristol, Rhode Island, to visit Blithewold, a property Yankee Magazine deemed one of the five best public gardens in New England (yes, there’s a mansion on the grounds, too!).
Let’s look at a bit of history regarding this edifying estate.
Augustus Van Wickle, a New Jersey resident, attended Brown University in Rhode Island. Upon graduation, he returned home to work in his father’s coal mining business. He eventually relocated to Pennsylvania to run one of the family mines. It was there he met his wife, Bessie Pardee. Bessie’s father was also a coal magnate, so the couple seemed to have a lot in common. Augustus and Bessie married in 1882, and their first daughter, Marjorie, was born in 1883.
As Van Wickle’s success continued, he began seeking out a summer home for his family. He ultimately purchased waterfront property on Narragansett Bay and erected a large residence on the land. The dwelling, completed in 1896, was designed as a Queen Anne style mansion. The couple and their child enjoyed the exhilarating life of high society and indeed reveled in their good fortune.
Tragically, Augustus Van Wickle was accidentally killed in June 1898. Bessie was pregnant at the time, and Augustine, Augustus and Bessie’s second child, was born five months after her father’s passing. Naturally, Augustus’ death was a terrible shock to the family.
In 1901, Bessie married William Leander McKee, a prosperous partner in a Boston leather manufacturing business. McKee had been Augustus’ sailing friend. Blithewold was again filled with life, and many friends and relatives visited for extended periods. The mansion did burn down in 1906, but an even more luxurious abode was built. The subsequent structure was fashioned in an English Country Manor style. William, Bessie, and the children resided in Boston during the year but spent summers at the Rhode Island home. Following the stock market crash, however, the family lived in Bristol year-round.
Marjorie and Augustine inherited Blithewold after their mother’s death in 1936. Marjorie bought out Augustine’s share of the estate, but Augustine continued to spend summers at the impressive manor. Marjorie passed away in 1976 and providentially requested the property be available for public enjoyment.
So, what does this mean?
It means the 45-room, 33-acre waterfront estate boasting spectacular views is readily available for visitors to enjoy. The house’s dreamy French doors leading out to multiple terraces, tastefully varied décor, Baroque style furnishings in the grand dining area, fluted columns, and 19th century Dutch master bedroom furnishings, are sure to amaze. At the same time, the property’s incredible gardens, luscious lawns, specimen trees, and assorted shrubbery make this little more than an hour drive from Worcester a fantastic destination spot.
And the cost?
The entrance fee is $12 for adults and $11 for seniors. Children 6 to 17 are admitted for $4, and little ones under 6 get in for free. There’s a gift shop on the grounds, and special events take place during the year. In fact, the Christmas season is alleged to be visually magnificent.
For additional info regarding this must-see-at-least-once mansion, gardens and arboretum, go to http://www.blithewold.org/