Blithewold ... it means "pretty wood" in old english and it's an apt name for a beautiful home by the sea, built in Bristol, RI around the turn of the century by the Van Wickles. The Van Wickles didn't just have a cute name and lots of money. They had great taste in architecture and a real fascination for horticulture. We've attempted to capture both in a series of panoramas we've done of their house and grounds. Our virtual tour starts at the front of the house in the panorama I've embedded in the page above and continues to the veranda in the back of the house and the sweep of grounds down to the sea. Try the "full screen" option and then use the thumbnails which will appear at the bottom of the image to move on to the view of the frog pond and the daffodils in the woods.
You'll like the creation of the Van Wickles, we can assure you. They were good people. Money didn't rot their souls and turn them into mean hearted Scrooges. It enabled their spirits to capture and create beauty. It's not just my fanciful imagination. It's on the books ... or in this case on the website ... all in one telling factoid from their history page. The mansion you see today is the second of two. The first one burnt to the ground in 1906, only 10 years after it was built. It was a slow moving fire that they were apparently powerless to stop. The telling part ... many of the people of Bristol were there trying to help. When they realized they couldn't stop the fire they decided to save as many of the furnishings as they could, "even fireplaces and bathtubs." Now I ask you, would you get up in the middle of the night to risk your life carrying some rich person's bathtub down the stairs of their burning mansion if you didn't like them? The VanWickles obviously inspired some degree of devotion in the good people of Bristol.
The good news is that the devotion is alive and well today. The house and grounds are cared for by a lean non profit organization that has weathered several financial storms in their quest to keep the Van Wickle's dream alive. They direct the efforts of over 200 dedicated volunteers who work on the house and grounds. They oversee a membership of over 1300 and an endowment of 3.2 million. Most importantly, they've succeeded in sharing the beauty that the VanWickles created with over 35,000 visitors each year! We think you'd do yourself a favor if you decide to be one of them. For more information you should visit their website at www.blithewold.org.
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