Career diplomat Robert Woods Bliss and his wife, Mildred, bought the property in 1920 and tamed the sprawling grounds into acres of splendid gardens designed mainly by Beatrix Farrand. In 1940, the Blisses gave the estate to Harvard University as a study center, library, museum, and garden. The museum holds a world-renowned collection of Byzantine and pre-Columbian art. Both collections are small but choice, reflecting the enormous skill and creativity developed at roughly the same time in two very different parts of the world. The Byzantine collection includes beautiful examples of both religious and secular items executed in mosaic, metal, enamel, stone, textile, and ivory. Pre-Columbian works—artifacts and textiles from Mexico and Central and South America by peoples such as the Aztec, Maya, Inca, and Olmec—are arranged in an enclosed glass pavilion designed by Philip Johnson.
Normally on public view are the lavishly decorated music room (which hosted representatives
from the U.S., Great Britain, China, and the Soviet Union to lay the groundwork for the United Nations in 1944), special changing exhibits, and selections from Mrs. Bliss's collection. On weekends, visitors can see the Rare Book Reading Room and docents are on hand to share the history of the room and its furnishings and artwork. The gardens are especially glorious during the spring when the peonies are in full bloom.