101 Ferry Road, Bristol, Rhode Island

Completed in 1908, for William L. McKee (1863-1946) and his wife, Bessie Pardee (1860-1936), the widow of coal magnate Augustus Van Wickle (1856-1898) who built the first Blithewold - Blithewold (1896) - on the same site before it was lost to fire in 1906. This version was designed by Kilham & Hopkins of Boston in what has been termed as an "English Country Manor" style. In many ways, it follows its own unique American style with a porte-cochere, Colonial interiors, and copious windows to fill the house with light while making the most of the sea views. The magnificent gardens for which the house is best known today were laid out by John DeWolf (1850-1913) whose notorious family history is intertwined with the history of Bristol, he being a grandson of Prof. DeWolf whose first cousins lived at Linden Place and Hey Bonnie Hall....

This house is best associated with...

Bessie Pardee

Mrs Bessie (Pardee) Van Wickle, McKee


William Leander McKee

William L. McKee, Senior Partner of A.W. Tedcastle Co., of Boston, Massachusetts


Marjorie Randolph Van Wickle

Mrs Marjorie Randolph (Van Wickle) Lyon


George Armstrong Lyon

George A. Lyon, of Boston & "Blithewold" Rhode Island


McKee outlived his wife and died here in 1946. His elder stepdaughter, Marjorie (along with her husband, George Armstrong Lyon) then bought out her sister, Augustine, and the Lyons proceeded to spend half the year here and the other half in Boston. George died eight years later but Mrs Lyon continued her routine of living between here and Boston up until the year before her death in 1977. She left Blithewold and its 33-acres with an endowment of $1.2 million to the Heritage Foundation of Rhode Island but just twenty years later the endowment was gone and its future looked uncertain. In response, local residents clubbed together to found Save Blithewold, Inc., and within just three weeks had raised the required capital. Save Blithewold still rely on donations but they continue to maintain the house and gardens immaculately, both of which are open to the public today.

It is interesting to note that in 1896 John DeWolf's first cousin, John Byron Diman (1863-1949), co-founded and became the first headmaster of St. George's School at Middletown, near Newport. In 1901, Diman commissioned his first cousin, Prescott O. Clarke (1858-1936), of Clarke & Howe, to build the first building on its present campus, "Old School". The front facade (see the pictures) bears a distinct similarity to that of Blithewold. 

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Contributed by Mark Meredith on 06/12/2019 and last updated on 09/12/2019.
Image Courtesy of Liz West on Flickr; (Very) Far from the Coal Mine (2013), by the late, great John Foreman; National Register of Historic Places, Inventory Form; Middletown (Arcadia Publishing) by Christine Haverington, Middletown Historical Society


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