The original Blithewold was a large, shingled, Queen Anne style mansion. The 45-room mansion was furnished with beautiful antiques and fine reproduction furniture. The photograph shown at the left was taken in 1901 five years before the mansion was destroyed by fire.

The second Blithewold was much grander, designed by the Boston architectural firm of Kilham and Hopkinsin the English Country Manor style.These houses, typically, were built of rough stone, with steep pitched roofs and medieval ornamentation. The family loved outdoor pursuits, and the very architecture of the mansion ensures that its occupants are constantly aware of their magnificent surroundings. The house is long and narrow, built on a north-south axis, so that all the main rooms face west to the water. There appears to have been a deliberate attempt to ‘bring the outdoors in’, with French doors leading out to terraces, porches, loggias and sleeping-porches, and large windows which frame the glorious sunsets at Blithewold.

The archival collections are stored on the third floor of the Mansion (originally guest quarters). They represent many aspects of the lives of Blithewold family members over a span of 150 years, including their domestic lives, education, travels, recreation, gardens, and pets. The guest books are full of drawings, amusing stories, paintings, and praise for Bessie and Marjorie’s renowned hospitality. Thousands of letters to and from the family tell of their dreams and aspirations. There are letters documenting historic events, like the opening of the Van Wickle Gates at Brown University in 1901, and the Fitz-Randolph Van Wickle Gates at Princeton University in 1905, both presented and dedicated by Bessie and Marjorie. Diaries in the archives document events of the day, social and historical occasions, progress in the gardens, and relationships within the extended family.

To learn more about Blithewold’s extensive history, click here!


Blithewold is a 33 acre public garden-arboretum on Narragansett Bay shore in Bristol, RI (Zone 6b/7). Our mission is “to preserve New England’s finest garden estate through excellence in horticulture and historic preservation, and by our example to teach and inspire others.”

That’s really it in a nutshell. But that’s a dry sort of nut, so here’s a garden version straight from the greenhouse potting bench: the garden staff’s mission is to put Blithewold on-the-map through enthusiastic plant choices and our sheer love of colorful abundance and nature’s processes – and to teach and inspire others. Every day, week, month, year at Blithewold brings change and we want you to witness it all – virtually and in the flesh.

To learn more about Blithewold’s beautiful gardens, click here!


Christmas at Blithewold,Blithewold’s Christmas theme for 2014 is, “You’re Invited” it celebrates the Van Wickle family’s love of entertaining. This year we’re going to party like it’s 1909, 1919 or 1929!

The Mansion is open for touring Tuesday through Sunday 11a.m. – 5 p.m. Buy your admission tickets online or at the door. Dedicated volunteers spend over a year planning and crafting the perfect decorations tailored to the theme and designed for each Mansion room. The decorating begins the day after Columbus Day each year and barely wraps by Thanksgiving.

Follow us on Facebook, PinterestFlickr and Twitter to see pictures of years past.

Christmas at Blithewold begins November 27th, come and enjoy the elaborate decorations. Make a reservation for our fun and informal afternoon teas, the Santa sing-alongs, the joyous musical performances, and the creative workshops for both children and adults! Visit the Blithewold events page for a complete list of activities.