In my original review of the Newport, Rhode Island Mansions, I mentioned the Elms mansion had a separate servants tour to be had, which peeked my interest. So after some time exploring the New England area (and hurting for a local day off the long road) we returned to the Elms for said tour.
Unlike the main tour which was a self guided audio tour, the Servant’s tour was guided by a pretty sharp gentleman: if you ever go to the Elms and see a group meeting outside in front, chances are this is the servant tour about to begin. Our guide made the tour a little more personal, first splitting us into males and females as it would have been during the time period, and then assigning us each a job (yours truly was a valet/busboy). With jobs and tour badges on neck, we proceeded to the top floors of the Elms.
Inside were all sorts of cool little tidbits of gadgetry, knowledge and informational factiods which seem to complete the first tour if you’ve done it, though the first is not at all necessary for understanding this one. One example is a glass brick ceiling of the third (or so) floor serving as a portion of the actual servant quarter floor. Another is the call system used to manage dozens of workers in three different fields. The fix for who was being called was a system utilizing three distinct bells, one for each group. Pretty nifty for one of the first electrical callboxes.
Any one familiar with the Elms might recall that the owners of the Elms wanted the upkeep of the mansion to go about without guests actually witnessing the work being done. Servants were largely to be unseen, which meant operating in the lower levels, back compartments leading to rooms and living on the upper floors of the building. The house boasted an cul-de-sac-esque loading dock covered in the summer by vegetation, making deliveries virtually unseen. Along the same vein was the subroof, equipped with a tall wall all around and ample walkway for staff to hangout, enjoy the weather and relax.
From here, the tour goes back down the stairs to the lower levels, familiar territory for people who’ve been on the normal tour. Yet the familiar sight stops at the kitchen as the servant’s tour progresses beyond into laundry, refrigeration, and the boiler room, complete with a lightbulb testing area and a receiving track for coal coming into the property. It’s interesting to note how the methods of running the house changed with the advent of technology (refrigeration technology, electricity, etc.) From here, like most other tours, it’s out the gift shop at the conclusion.
Logistically, the tour takes visitors in through the receiving dock and all the way up the stairs, four or five floors up. Rooms are pretty small, which in a good size group means everyone is crammed in as the guide drops history on us. Eventually it’s back down the stairs and down another stairway into the boiler room. On a side note, there is an elevator for the main building. Cons, as I’m sure you might have figured out, is no photography inside.
Regardless, I enjoyed seeing how the other side of society lived amidst the socialites of the times. The servant’s tour was quite educational and very enjoyable. Thanks for reading.