Thursday, June 4, 2015 | | How, When, What-we-do
Blithewald in Rumson, NJ
Blithewald – a gracious 45-room mansion by the sea, surrounded by extensive tree plantings and formal gardens, including a sunken European-style garden with a marble shell fountain.
Does this description sound familiar? The slight difference in spelling notwithstanding, this is not our Blithewold, but the house on the New Jersey Shore that Augustus and Bessie Van Wickle rented for a few months in 1886. Even then, Bessie thought the house was spelled “Blithewold,” with an “o.” The Van Wickles loved the house so much that when they established their own Country House nine years later in Bristol, they decided it should be named Blithewold.
Blithewald, with an “a,” was built in 1883 in Sea Bright, a small town on the northern part of the New Jersey Shore. In 1886 The Van Wickles were moving to Morristown, New Jersey from Cleveland, Ohio, a city they had lived in for 4 years. It is not clear whether they needed to rent while they were waiting to move into their new home on Madison Avenue in Morristown, but that September Bessie moved into Blithewald with 3-year old Marjorie, a nurse, a cook, and maids. The Archives at Blithewold hold several letters that Bessie wrote to her sisters about her time there, always using the return address “Blithewold.” One of her favorite activities there was rowing on the lake on the property.
Marjorie, her daughter, began writing her Reminiscences in her ninetieth year with: “I will begin with the first place I remember, Sea Bright, New Jersey. The place was named “Blithewold.” I was three that summer. I do remember distinctly going through the wood and suddenly through the trees I saw the sea. I have never forgotten that first sight of it, so bright through the dark shadows of the woods.”
The similarities between the two elegant homes do not end there. Not only does Blithewald have a case clock identical to our Brokaw clock, but it also has a historical reputation for hospitality and gracious entertaining. And, as another, eerie similarity, I offer the postscript that just last month Blithewald, N.J. suffered a serious fire, probably as a result of an electrical overload. It was discovered around twelve noon and burned all afternoon. The current owners hope to be able to restore the house to its former glory.