The Van Wickle Family Timeline

1856 - 1978

1856 Augustus Van Wickle born in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

1860 Bessie Pardee born in Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

1876 Augustus Van Wickle graduates from Brown University, RI.

1882 Augustus marries Bessie in Hazleton.

1883 Their daughter Marjorie Randolph Van Wickle is born.

1894 The family visit Bristol, and purchase a Herroshoff yacht which they name “Marjorie”. They purchase the Gardner estate on Ferry Road in Bristol, which they name Blithewold.

1895 Bessie hires John DeWolf to design the landscape.

1896 First summer spent at Blithewold in their new Queen Anne style mansion. The architect is Francis Hoppin of Hoppin & Koen.

1898 In June, Augustus Van Wickle killed in a skeet-shooting accident in Hazleton. In November Bessie gives birth to their second daughter, Augustine Van Wickle.

1901 Bessie Van Wickle marries William McKee of Boston. Marjorie attends the official opening of the Van Wickle Memorial Gates at Brown University.

1903 Marjorie embarks on a year-long tour of Europe and Egypt with her cousin Dorothy Pardee, friend Gertrude Vaughan, and chaperone/guide Helen Macartnay.

1905 Marjorie and Bessie attend the official opening of the FitzRandolph Van Wickle Gates at Princeton University, also attended by Woodrow Wilson and Grover Cleveland.

1906 In June, the first Blithewold mansion is totally destroyed by fire. All furniture and furnishings are saved. Plans begin immediately to rebuild.

1907 Rebuilding of Blithewold in an English Country Manor style, of stone and stucco. Architect is Walter Kilham of Kilham & Hopkins, Boston.

1908 Family’s first summer in the new Blithewold, using some architectural features saved from the first house. Original furnishings are used to decorate the new house.

1911 The Giant Sequoia is planted in the Enclosed Garden at Blithewold.

1914 Marjorie Van Wickle marries George Armstrong Lyon outside the Summerhouse in the Enclosed Garden at Blithewold.

1917 America enters the war in Europe. George Lyon signs up for basic training and goes to France as a Captain. Marjorie joins the Red Cross of America, an affiliation she will continue for fifty years.

1919 Augustine Van Wickle marries Quincy Adams Shaw, Jr.

1925 Augustine gives birth to daughter, Augustine Pardee (Dee) Shaw.

1926 Ernest Wilson and Alfred Rehder of the Arnold Arboretum visit Blithewold and declare it an Arboretum.

1928 Estelle Clements, who had lived with the family for 30 years, dies in Greenville, Mississippi, at the age of 79 of pneumonia. Augustine gives birth to daughter, Marjorie Pemberton Shaw.

1932 Bessie transfers ownership of Blithewold to Marjorie and Augustine. Their townhouse on Commonwealth Avenue is sold to offset debts from William McKee’s faltering business. The McKees move permanently to Blithewold, and 35 acres to the south is sold to the Columban Fathers.

1936 Bessie Van Wickle McKee dies at Rhode Island Hospital, after a fall on the staircase at Blithewold. Augustine divorces Quincy Shaw and spends a year at Blithewold with her children, Dee and Marjorie.

1937 Augustine marries Robert Toland and moves to Whitemarsh, PA with her children Dee and Marjorie.

1938 Devastating hurricane causes great destruction at Blithewold. Hundreds of trees are destroyed and the Water Garden is flooded with salt water for days. The dock area is destroyed and the sandy beach is washed away.

1946 William McKee dies at Blithewold at the age of 83. Marjorie buys her sister’s share of Blithewold, and becomes the sole owner of Blithewold.

1954 George Lyon dies at the age of 75 in Providence.

1972 The Katsura tree is planted in the Enclosed Garden, a gift to Marjorie from The Arnold Arboretum in thanks for her continued support.

1973 Marjorie Van Wickle Lyon’s 90th birthday celebrated at Blithewold.

1976 Marjorie Van Wickle Lyon dies at Blithewold at the age of 93. Ownership of Blithewold passes to the Heritage Foundation of Rhode Island, later known as the Heritage Trust of Rhode Island. An endowment is left, for upkeep.

1977 Augustine Van Wickle Shaw Toland dies at the age of 78 in Whitemarsh.

1978 Blithewold opens to the public.