*Note: This tour required everyone – all the guests and employees – to wear a mask at all times inside this home. Additionally, we had to sign up online to attend this.
“Here is where the scullery maid worked from 6 AM to 10 PM.” The tour guide showed us a dim, narrow hallway.
Although the sun shone brightly outside, I imagined myself as a maid, dealing with the darkness and the harsh conditions in those working hours and the number of steps going back and forth from the kitchen to the basement.
About a week ago, I joined a tour at Old Westbury Gardens that showcased where the servants had worked through the years of the early 20th century. I’ve only been to the gardens and inside the opulent house, but this was my first time seeing the “behind the scenes” of what made Old Westbury.
“Has anyone watched Downton Abbey?” the guide asked.
A few women in the tour raised their hands. I tried watching the first episode, but it bored me. (I guess I was expecting more action in a period pierce, or maybe I just prefer Medieval History.)
“Well,” the tour lady continued, “the family and their servants lived in this lifestyle like this. Yet since Old Westbury is in New York and not England, most servants ventured into the city for an upgrade after a few years.”
However, this lifestyle began to fade during the Great Depression in the 1930s and after World War II in the 1940s. Although they still had wealth, this lifestyle was not conducive to the rapidly modernizing world.
Eventually, in the 1950s, one of the last remaining family members sold Wesbury House. And today, it is a historical landmark of a bygone era. And the servants’ courters have been transformed into office space.
I found all of this fascinating. It was like wandering through a time capsule – an era frozen in place. The people may have gone, but we still have a glimpse of this former life with the furniture, artwork, and this very architecture standing in place.
All in all, I think that it’s great they have this tour and that they have preserved this legacy despite a transforming world.