Thursday, February 20, 2014

Downton Days at Meadow Brook Hall

My girlfriend and I braved snow and sleet to attend Downton Days at Meadow Brook Hall  in Rochester, MI today, and it was so worth it.  Below is the sign at the Adams Road entrance that winds back to Meadow Brook Hall.

Photography inside the mansion was limited.  We were in tour group B, and we assembled in the library to wait for our tour to begin at 12:30 p.m.

Our male docent told us our tour would be three-fold: Behind the scenes, the Wilson family, and the staff.   

The tour began with the staff wing of the mansion.  They had their own communal living room, dining room, and sun porch.  The Wilson's employed five maids and one head maid. Each had her own private 10 x 12 room.  The butler and male staff also had private rooms located on a different level.  Matilda Dodge Wilson had a personal secretary/bookkeeper, and since she was higher on the staff hierarchy, she had her own suite with a bedroom, bathroom, and small living room.  

The kitchen, linen room, ironing room, sewing room, fresh flower room with coolers, and gift wrapping room completed the behind the scenes portion of the tour.  From there we went into the second floor family wing of the mansion where Mr. and Mrs. Wilson's bedrooms, guest rooms and nursery were located. Then we went down the Grand Staircase to the Living Room which is one of the largest rooms in the mansion.  The docent equated it to the Drawing Room at Downton Abbey's Highclere Castle.  Silver tea sets were on display, and we were told Mrs. Wilson hosted teas in the Living Room, and always poured the tea herself rather than delegating the task to servants. She was also keeper of the tea caddy in the early days at the mansion.  I love that tea was an integral part of life at Meadow Brook!  

From the tour we walked a short distance to the family garage where the lecture was held.  I was permitted to take a photo there.

Interesting comparisons were given between Downton Abbey's Crawley family and Highclere Castle, and the Wilson family and Meadow Brook.
  • Lady Mary and Matilda Dodge were two years apart in age when they became widowed.
  • Highclere Castle has 50 plus bedrooms compared to Meadow Brook's  11, BUT Meadow Brook has 25 bathrooms, and the seventeenth century castle had none during Downton Abbey's time period.   They would have used something similar to what we know today as "potty chairs" or "porta-potties."
  • Mrs. Hughes' equivalent at Meadow Brook was Mrs. Beatrice Whittaker.
  • Meadow Brook also had a Mr. Bates.
  • Meadow Brook had a Scottish maid who prepared home style meals compared to Mrs. Patmore's French cuisine.
  • Both estates had working farms.
  • Unlike Highclere Castle, Meadow Brook had guarded security -  the result of kidnappings of the rich in the US [most notably the Lindbergh baby] in the 1920's-30's.
Meadow Brook Hall was built in 1929 at a cost of $3,500,000 and is 88,000 square feet in size.  It's the fourth largest mansion in the United States - larger than the White House which has approximately 55,000 sq. ft.

Following the lecture we walked back to the mansion for lunch in the Christopher Wren Dining Room.  This was the only room in the mansion where cameras were permitted. Meadow Brook Hall is rented for weddings, and the receptions are often held in the dining room, as well as other special events.   It's wonderful to have the opportunity to literally dine in the elegant dining room of this great mansion just as the Wilson family once did. The Edsel Ford Estate in Grosse Pointe Shores, MI does not allow this privilege anywhere inside their mansion.

All the rooms had very high ceilings, and tall door openings.   As a side note, our docent said Mr. Wilson was 6 ft. 6 inches tall, compared to  Mrs. Wilson who was under 5 feet tall.

My girlfriend and I were seated at table 5 with four other lovely people.

And there was tea.  Lipton's never tasted so good on a cold, wet, wintry day!

Our lunch was "Chicken Cynthia" - julienned vegetables, artichoke hearts, and navy beans, topped with a grilled chicken breast.  Everyone at our table enjoyed it.

Dessert was a slice of apple pie.   The cost of the tour, lecture, and lunch was $45 and helps offset the $7,500 expense of running the mansion every day.

The three ladies below were seated in the adjacent breakfast room.  Wouldn't that be fun?

The couple photographed below dined at the table with us.  The tour, lecture, and lunch at Meadow Brook Hall was his Valentine's gift to his wife, who is very much a Downton Abbey fan. She told us her sister hosted an outdoor Downton Abbey tea last summer.

A Mother and Daughter were the other guests at our table.  The daughter treated her mom to the Downton Days event.  We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch and conversation with these lovely people.

[L-R:  Me and girlfriend, Lori]

As a keepsake of the day I bought a Downton Abbey automobile that Branson would have chauffeured from the Meadow Brook gift shop.

What a wonderful way to spend the day.  Thank you Meadow Brook staff!

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I blogged about Meadow Brook's annual 2012 Holiday Walk and Tea here.


  1. I really admire how creative they were to come up with this comparing event! I love it all and what a wonderful time you had!

  2. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon visiting Michigan's version of Downton Abbey. Thank you for sharing.

  3. How wonderful to get the "inside look" at this lovely mansion. I'm glad the weather didn't keep you away, and that you got back home safely.

  4. Dear Phyllis,
    I must have been wonderful. There is definitely Downton mania. I wouldn't miss the show for the world. Hope to get there one day too.
    Your tea looks and sounds lovely and a lecture to learn more...fabulous! Meadow Brook Hall is quite elegant.
    xo Ruthie

  5. A delightful account of your event at Meadow Brook Hall and the comparisons to Downton Abbey are interesting.
    Lunch looks delicious and your table companions were kind to let you take their photo.

  6. What a fun event, Phyllis! You really do attend a lot of great tea-related parties, and I'm glad you share them with us. We don't have as many around here, although there are two tea rooms within 50 miles, plus the Asian style tea room downtown. I enjoy going when I can!
    Blessings, Beth

  7. Wow, what an amazing place! I'm so glad you (safely!) braved the elements to go and share it with us!


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