Augustus and Bessie Van Wickle purchased the property in Bristol in 1894, drawn to its location because it offered for mooring their new steam yacht, The Marjorie, acquired from the renowned Rhode Island boat builder, Nathanael Herreshoff. The Van Wickles consciously rejected the nearby, more fashionable Newport, joining contemporaries who created enclaves along the shores of Narragansett Bay, from Westerly to Little Compton.
From significant wealth accrued in the late 19th century, the Van Wickles, and later the McKee family and Marjorie Lyon, created a rural retreat on Narragansett Bay that illustrated their distinctive tastes and widely ranging interests. Members of the family esteemed the values of informality, friends, outdoor pursuits, and community service rather than status or ostentation. These they expressed at Blithewold, adapting in creative ways both European and American conventions in architecture, garden design, and interior furnishing.