America's Downton Abbey

Associated Press
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)

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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 here —servants, silver and all — from New York and elsewhere in the summer to enjoy the ocean breezes and society scene.

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