SUMMARY STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE 

 

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Blithewold, in Bristol, Rhode Island, is nationally significant in American history as one of the most fully developed, best-documented and intact examples of the Country Place era in the United States, and for its high artistic value in representing the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement on domestic design in this country. A fusion of architecture, landscape architecture, horticulture and decorative arts, Blithewold is among the few late 19th and early 20th century New England estates that retain their integrity and authenticity down to the details of plant materials and interior furnishings, family archives and artifacts. A particularly sensitive response to its idyllic setting on the Rhode Island coast, it offers a rich interplay of dramatic waterfront setting, designed landscape spaces and varied buildings and structures that integrate extant vernacular features with a range of new design choices.

Several characteristics distinguish Blithewold from other coastal estates of the period in the Northeastern United States, and mark its importance as a national prototype:

Blithewold chronicles the remarkable lives of two generations of a prominent yet socially unpretentious American family. Augustus and Bessie Van Wickle purchased the property in Bristol in 1894, drawn to its location because of the advantage 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 establishing themselves in the nearby, more fashionable Newport, joining contemporaries who created enclaves along the western and eastern 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. Despite often-strong individual personalities, members of the family nevertheless esteemed in common the values of informality, friends, outdoor pursuits, and community service rather than status or ostentation. These they expressed at Blithewold, adapting in creative and idiosyncratic ways both European and American conventions in architecture, garden design, and interior furnishing.

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