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The natural and vernacular landscape plays a dominant role in shaping the character of Blithewold. Landscape designer and plantsman John DeWolf based his overarching concept for the site on the dirt roads, stone walls and gentle pastures of the existing vernacular landscape, as well as the dramatic waterfront site. His design reflects a widespread interest in America’s 17th and 18th century heritage that manifested itself in both the Colonial Revival and the American Arts and Crafts movements. The plan focuses on the sequential development of views from the approach road to the water and the use of vegetation to define and organize exterior space. It harmoniously integrates formal and naturalistic traditions in landscape design, and employs multiple design typologies to create varied garden spaces that are unified by the Great Lawn and framed by mature specimen trees and shrubs.


Bessie Van Wickle and John DeWolf shared an interest in exotic horticulture, continuing a tradition that was begun by John Rogers Gardner, owner of the site in the mid-19th century. They carefully considered location to nurture rare specimens, expanding the palette of materials that could be cultivated in the region, while also producing fruits and flowers to complement the estate’s hospitable lifestyle. Despite hurricanes and winter nor’easters that regularly downed trees, Blithewold is an arboretum and was recognized as such by the pre-eminent Arnold Arboretum in 1926.

The gardens, the Mansion and outbuildings are, together, an important antecedent in the development of the 20th century New England country home landscape. Bessie described her vision for “a park with distinctive features, using the house as a centre.” The original aesthetic intent, established in the Great Lawn and surrounding gardens and in the name that they gave to it, “Old English”, for “happy woodland”—was deepened by the design of Blithewold II after the first mansion was destroyed by fire in 1906. Built of stone salvaged from the site and mined near the Van Wickle coal quarries in Pennsylvania, the new house integrated Tudor and Jacobean details which were introduced to the United States in the 1880s but became most popular around World War I. Both the Mansion layout, with its kitchen, laundry and other conveniences, and the 1909 Garage, with its fueling and repair facilities, reflect the sensitive adaptation of medieval and 19th century precedents to meet modern needs. These buildings joined the 18th and 19th century structures to create the sense of a family retreat that had evolved over many decades and two generations.

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