Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Museums ~ Blithewold, Bristol

101 Ferry Road (Rte. 114)
Bristol, Rhode Island

photo: Blithewold.org

I took Bear and her out of town guest to check out Blithewold mansion over the Christmas holiday. They were both very excited by the holiday display that Blithewold calls its "Tiffany, Tinsel and Toys." 

The original house, which burned down in 1906, had been a Queen Anne style built in 1896 by Augustus and Bessie Van Wickle and daughter Marjorie as a summer home. Bessie was an avid horticulturalist and worked with John DeWolf of Bristol (who also served as Superintendent of Prospect Park in New York) to design the grounds.

Augustus died suddenly  in 1898 and the birth of daughter Augustine came just a few months afterward. Bessie continued to use Blithewold, even after her remarriage to William McKee in 1901. Blithewold burned down in 1905, but neighbors helped rescue much of the furnishings and fixtures, and the house was rebuilt in the English Manor style in 1906.

After Bessie's death, daughter Marjorie continued her tradition of horticulture, eventually creating sweeping gardens and an arboretum.The house was bequeathed to Preserve Rhode Island in 1976 and turned over to Save Blithewold who manages the property with a 99-year lease.

When you first arrive at Blithewold (in winter, at least), you enter the property through a moon gate just off the parking lot.

Kelli & Becca at Blithewold Moon Gate

Just inside the door is a huge tree done in aqua and silver. It rises from the middle of the front hall up past the railing on the open second floor.
Blithewold Christmas tree
bottom of the tree
top of Christmas Tree
top of the tree
The main floor has a dining area, now used as a tea room, with a big fireplace and eclectic seating. The billiard room, just off the main hall, was decorated with a peacock-themed tree and mechanical toys set out on the pool table.
Pool room
Billiard room
The hearth is engraved "Blithewold," and the room has a sweeping view of the grounds and bay.

Just past the billiard room is a "telephone" room - a small closet-sized room where the phone is built directly into the wall. There is some storage as well as the phone.

At the end of the hall is the living room. This was set up with chairs as if for an audience, but I'm not sure why. The white and gold decorations were lovely in the space.

living room
Living room fireplace
The stairs are a work of art, with repeating patterns of different type spindle supports and a landing with seating under a big window.

The second floor houses the bedrooms, including a guest room decked in purples,
guest bedroom

Marjorie's bedroom with dozens of dolls on display (she was a collector)
doll collection

Augustine's bedroom was decorated in pale pinks and blues - very delicate and pretty. There was also a tiny nursery and the master suite, which was beautifully wallpapered with a mural of scenes from Holland.

Bear and I are looking forward to going back in the warmer months to enjoy the arboretum.

You can see what other travelers have to say about Blithewold at UpTake.


Pam said...

Blithewold is beautiful in both winter and summer. I love visiting during the holiday season. The reason for the chairs in the living room being set up for an audience is that there are musical performances scheduled during the holiday season. Lovely to hear and see, if you hit it right. You will enjoy the grounds in the nice weather. Be sure to bring a book, as there are plenty of hidden nooks with chairs and benches. Enjoy!

The Bumbles said...

We did something similar in CT, going to see Gillette Castle all decked out for the holidays. Seeing personal decorations everywhere gave it a more homey touch - rather than that feel you usually get from a museum house. The grounds there are beautiful too and I look forward to exploring in the warmer weather. Good to know that another gem like this exists so close in RI - we'll have to plan a visit.

Michelle Quillin said...

I've always wanted to go to Blithewold! Thanks so much for sharing your visit with us, and for the gorgeous pictures. We didn't decorate for Christmas this year, so the Blithewold pictures are especially beautiful.

A few years ago, they had a Christmas display with each room representing a different country. Any sign of that this past season?

Anonymous said...

So charming! Love it.
Now I cannot wait to go there next year.

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