The historic Rumson mansion known as Blithewald was all set for a Saturday Gatsby-themed gala to kick-off its month-long feature as the Visiting Nurse Association’s (VNA) fifth Stately Homes by-the-Sea Designer Show House — until a fire ravaged it.
The 19th century home to the Widener family, at 76 Buena Vista Ave., went up in flames on the upper floors and roof area at about 12:55 p.m., according to first responders at the scene.
As of 3:45 p.m., firefighters from several surrounding towns and beyond — Rumson, Fair Haven, Middletown, Red Bank, Little Silver, Sea Bright, Highlands, Atlantic Highlands, Shrewsbury and Asbury Park — were still arriving at what was still considered an active fire.
Smoke could still be seen billowing from the roof and upstairs. And firefighters were still on the scene at about 7 p.m.
There were no reported injuries, authorities said.
Fair Haven Fire Department thanked Tinton Falls Fire Co. No. 1 for covering Fair Haven while its firemen assisted at the Rumson fire.
The VNA released the following statement in the late afternoon:
Today, Blithewald, the house that designers, staff and volunteers have been preparing for the fifth edition of the Stately Homes by-the-Sea Designer Show House event to benefit VNA Health Group, caught fire and sustained heavy damage. The cause is unknown and we thankfully have heard of no injuries to anyone at this point.
We are tremendously grateful to the first responders and to our staff members and volunteers who were on the scene to respond to the emergency.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the first responders and the homeowners as they assess the damage.
Blithewald, a historic treasure from the Gilded Age, was the setting for the fifth edition of the Stately Homes by-the-Sea Designer Show House. Proceeds of tours and the Preview Gala were to benefit VNA Health Group.
We will provide updates about the Stately Homes-by-the-Sea Preview Gala that was scheduled for Saturday, April 25th and the opening of the Show House tours, which were scheduled to begin on April 28, 2015 as information becomes available.
This is a breaking news story. Rumson-Fair Haven Retrospect will add information as it becomes available.
— Elaine Van Develde