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A glimpse downstairs at America’s Downton Abbey

  • FILE - This Nov. 19, 2010 file photo shows the Elms mansion as seen through an opening in an iron fence, in Newport, R.I.  Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey." (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

    FILE - This Nov. 19, 2010 file photo shows the Elms mansion as seen through an opening in an iron fence, in Newport, R.I. Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey." (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

  • This circa 1920s photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County shows butler Ernest Birch, center, surrounded by footmen next to the terrace of The Elms mansion in Newport, R.I.  Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey."  (AP Photo/The Preservation Society of Newport County)

    This circa 1920s photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County shows butler Ernest Birch, center, surrounded by footmen next to the terrace of The Elms mansion in Newport, R.I. Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey." (AP Photo/The Preservation Society of Newport County)

  • This undated photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County shows Grace Rhodes Birch, left, a cook at The Elms mansion in Newport, R.I.,  with her husband Ernest Birch, the mansion's butler. The couple married in 1918. Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey."  (AP Photo/The Preservation Society of Newport County)

    This undated photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County shows Grace Rhodes Birch, left, a cook at The Elms mansion in Newport, R.I., with her husband Ernest Birch, the mansion's butler. The couple married in 1918. Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey." (AP Photo/The Preservation Society of Newport County)

  • This circa 1940s photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County shows maid Nellie Lynch on the roof outside the servants' quarters of The Elms mansion in Newport, R.I.  Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey." (AP Photo/The Preservation Society of Newport County)

    This circa 1940s photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County shows maid Nellie Lynch on the roof outside the servants' quarters of The Elms mansion in Newport, R.I. Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey." (AP Photo/The Preservation Society of Newport County)

  • This circa 1920s photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County shows footmen on the front stairs of The Elms, a mansion in Newport, R.I.  Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey." (AP Photo/The Preservation Society of Newport County)

    This circa 1920s photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County shows footmen on the front stairs of The Elms, a mansion in Newport, R.I. Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey." (AP Photo/The Preservation Society of Newport County)

  • FILE - This Nov. 19, 2010 file photo shows the Elms mansion as seen through an opening in an iron fence, in Newport, R.I.  Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey." (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)
  • This circa 1920s photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County shows butler Ernest Birch, center, surrounded by footmen next to the terrace of The Elms mansion in Newport, R.I.  Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey."  (AP Photo/The Preservation Society of Newport County)
  • This undated photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County shows Grace Rhodes Birch, left, a cook at The Elms mansion in Newport, R.I.,  with her husband Ernest Birch, the mansion's butler. The couple married in 1918. Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey."  (AP Photo/The Preservation Society of Newport County)
  • This circa 1940s photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County shows maid Nellie Lynch on the roof outside the servants' quarters of The Elms mansion in Newport, R.I.  Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey." (AP Photo/The Preservation Society of Newport County)
  • This circa 1920s photo provided by The Preservation Society of Newport County shows footmen on the front stairs of The Elms, a mansion in Newport, R.I.  Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants at The Elms, echoing themes of the British drama program, "Downton Abbey." (AP Photo/The Preservation Society of Newport County)

If the Crawley family of Downton Abbey were American, they’d summer at Newport.

The wild stateside success of the British period drama about post-Edwardian aristocrats and their live-in help has piqued interest in the life of servants in the Gilded Age mansions of the seaside city. The nation’s wealthiest families built Newport “cottages” in the 19th and early 20th centuries and would move their households there – servants, silver and all – from New York and elsewhere in the summer to enjoy the ocean breezes and society scene.

Just as the Downton servants develop relationships downstairs – think the frustrated love triangle of kitchen maids Daisy and Ivy with footman Alfred – servants in Newport carried on a lively social scene of their own. Many of their stories have begun to emerge after digging by researchers at the Newport Preservation Society, which owns several mansions. Newly discovered photographs, documents and family histories have inspired the creation of a tour about servants in one of Newport’s most picturesque houses, The Elms, becoming one of their most popular tours.

Many mansions have been open to the public for decades, but with a focus on the wealthy families who lived there. But the new guided tour at The Elms centers squarely on servants and allows visitors into rarely seen parts of the mansion, including servants’ quarters, the kitchen and the massive boiler room, where coal would be brought in through a tunnel that goes under the garden wall.

Meg A. Watt, a Downton fan from Stroudsburg, Pa., took the tour last spring, not long after it was started. The owners’ side of the house is opulent with marble and gold. Just steps away, hidden behind doors, are plain hallways and rooms for use by the servants, she said.

“It gives you a completely different perspective,” Watt said.

The Crawleys’ own American grandmama, played by Shirley MacLaine, owns homes in New York and Newport. The city is even mentioned on the show from time to time, including by Lady Mary Crawley.

“It’ll be dull but not uncomfortable,” she remarks to her lady’s maid, Anna, who asks to come with her.

If they had gone to Newport, they might have found a house much like The Elms.

Completed in 1901, it was built as a summer home for Edward Julius Berwind, a coal magnate, and his wife. It was the first home in Newport that was completely electrified, boasted modern amenities such as an ice maker and telephone, and was featured on a cover of Scientific American. The Elms was used as a residence until 1961.

The tour begins at the servants’ entrance, which is covered by an arbor and therefore hidden from view so residents upstairs wouldn’t see deliveries. The guide then leads people up five flights of stairs to the servants’ quarters, leading visitors to wonder how someone like Downton’s war-wounded Mr. Bates could manage such exertion several times a day.

One servant’s bedroom is furnished as it might have been at the time. One displays census records that show the names, occupations and countries of birth of the Berwind household’s domestic staff: around a dozen maids, footmen and others from countries as varied as England, France, Germany and Sweden, a difference from the servants at Downton, who are mostly English, save a few including the Scottish housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, and Irish chauffeur turned son-in-law, Tom Branson.

Another includes the story of the dismissal of the entire staff in 1902 after they asked for more time off, said John Tschirch, director of museum affairs at the mansions, who did much of the research on which the tour is based. The Berwinds replaced them with new servants brought up from New York.

Other bedrooms display photos of servants, as well as journals and other documents, many provided by servants’ descendants. One shows a maid standing next to a rocking chair on the home’s roof, which was a de facto porch for the staff.

Census records from 1895 show that around 10 percent of the population in Newport was domestic servants.

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