Past Show Houses
Stately Homes by-the-Sea
2015 Designer Show House
Blithewald in Rumson, NJ
If walls could talk, the historic mansion Blithewald would have a fascinating tale to tell. Over a century old, Blithewald has a rich legacy that reflects not only the evolution of the popular waterside enclave of Rumson, NJ but also a singular era in American history.
During the late nineteenth century much of the country was reaping the rewards of the unprecedented growth and prosperity of the Gilded Age. Wealthy families, already enjoying the opulent lifestyle and society in New York City, began to explore the idea of country estates as a retreat from urban life. David B. Keeler, a Civil War veteran and successful real estate and insurance broker in Manhattan, had family ties to the Rumson area reaching back to the 1700s. Rachel Hance Corlies, a relative of Keeler, was known for having met George Washington as the Colonial Army marched through Rumson following the Battle of Monmouth. Her home passed to Keeler following her death in 1866. Keeler became one of the earliest New York businessmen to establish a residence in Rumson and to recognize the potential of the area for those seeking summer homes. He joined with several other prominent residents to form a company that built the first bridge connecting Rumson to the oceanfront community of Sea Bright. Situated between two rivers providing cooling breezes in the summer and easily accessible to the ocean shore, Rumson was the perfect location for industrialists and financiers now looking to join the emerging "back to the land" movement.
In 1882, Keeler hired noted architect Edward L. Woodruff and renowned landscape designer Nathan Barrett to design a new house adjacent to The Lindens, the ancestral home where Keeler lived at the time. The two had already collaborated on the first planned communities in Rumson and would go on to lend their talents to a number of notable estates in the area. Completed in 1883, Blithewald features the rich architectural details and splendid gardens that would become emblematic of the grand mansions of the time. The Tudor influenced half-timbering and front cross-gable as well as the irregular surfaces and multiple porches of the Queen Anne style are still in evidence and suggest the combination of elements indicative of the "free classic" movement gaining popularity during the latter 1800s. In addition, the use of shingling seems to foreshadow the growing revival of colonial design. Barrett's formal layout of the grounds, including a sunken European-style garden and extensive tree plantings was unique for the day.
By this time Keeler was managing many of the significant real estate transactions in the area, as hereditary farmlands gave way to country homes set among vast lawns and manicured grounds. The age of the Great Estates in Rumson had begun.
Blithewald was sold to Thomas McCarter in 1889, thus introducing to Rumson one of the state's foremost families. Thomas and his brothers Uzal and Robert would wield enormous power and influence both locally and statewide for over 50 years. Renaming the home Nesbitt, Thomas was the first brother to establish a summer residence in Rumson. During the time he resided at Nesbitt, McCarter was elected to the New Jersey Senate and served as the majority leader. Named as general counsel of the Fidelity Trust Company, McCarter was appointed New Jersey Attorney General in 1901. Charmed by the beauty of the area, Uzal purchased The Lindens from David Keeler, razed the old historic home and constructed a Colonial Revival mansion that still stands today and bears the same name. Robert, who also served as New Jersey Attorney General, built the estate Tall Trees on 5 acres adjacent to his brothers' residences.
It was during this period that the seed might have been planted for the local nickname often attributed to Blithewald, "the Gatsby house". It has been said that Thomas McCarter's son was a friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald during their Princeton Days. The story continues that Fitzgerald visited the McCarter family in Rumson and may have incorporated his impressions of the McCarter patriarch and his home into characters in his novel, "The Great Gatsby". Although there is no substantiation to the story, the nickname endures to this day.
Thomas McCarter went on to build Rumson Hill, one of the most significant estates of the time, and became the first prominent summer resident to make Rumson his permanent home.
Subsequent owners of Blithewald have included Ira and Cecilia Barrows who renamed the estate Wonderlea and Benjamin F. Black, who in turn chose to name the home Invernay.
Blithewald has stood the test of time, through the Roaring 20's, the Great Depression, two World Wars, the moon landing, and the wrecking balls of progress. The halls have echoed with the laughter and tears of generations of families. Now this gracious home opens its doors to Stately Homes by-the Sea to begin another chapter in its storied history.
Gabrielan, Randall. Rumson: Shaping a Superlative Suburb. Dover, NH: Arcadia Publishing, 2003
Leonard, William J. Sea Bright, Monmouth Beach, Rumson Road, Atlantic Highlands, Oceanic, Leonardville Road, Navesink, Water Witch Club: Concerning Summer Homes Along the Shores of Monmouth County, New Jersey. Sea Bright, NJ: The Sentinel, 1903
History of Rumson,1665-1944. The Rumson Historical Committee. Asbury Park, NJ: The Schuyler Press, 1944.