This just in from the press room at Reynolda House. Winston-Salem  may have the  makings of its own hit TV series


January 8, 2014

MEDIA ADVISORY: History Scholar Finds Resonance Between Fictional TV Series ‘Downton Abbey’ and Historic NC Estate

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Jan. 8, 2014) – A history scholar at Reynolda House Museum of American Art says the popularity of the PBS drama “Downton Abbey” in the United States reflects a national curiosity about how wealthy families lived in the early 20th century. The early heyday of Reynolda, the historic estate of tobacco magnate Richard Joshua Reynolds, corresponds with the time period depicted in Downton Abbey and provides interesting comparisons to the television series.

“Although Downton Abbey is a fictitious account of different classes living under the same roof, there are interesting comparisons to be gleaned from the real-life, archivally documented accounts of life at Reynolda,” says Elizabeth Chew, the director of the curatorial and education division at Reynolda House. Reynolda, the modern home and estate of R.J. Reynolds and his wife, Katharine Smith Reynolds, was completed in 1917.

“It seems as if a major plot line for this season may be the growing interest of the character Lady Mary, daughter of the Earl of Grantham (played by Michelle Dockery), in running Downton Abbey,” she says. “As a woman in 1920s England, Mary would not have been automatically entitled to inherit the estate of her deceased husband Matthew Crawley (her father’s heir), just as she was not entitled to inherit her father’s.”

In contrast, Chew says, in the United States, Katharine Smith Reynolds, wife of R. J. Reynolds, purchased the land for Reynolda in her own name beginning in 1906 and was the major decision maker behind the creation and running of the entire estate—landscape, house, and the model farm—before her early death in 1924.

Chew is available for interviews about correlations between Reynolda, American history, and Downton Abbey, whose season four premiere was reported as the highest-rated premiere for a drama in PBS history. Additional comparisons from the season four premiere:

·         Domestic Staff: At Downton Abbey, the butler Carson runs the house. At Reynolda, this person was referred to as the major domo. John Carter and Harvey Miller served in this role for the majority of the estate’s life.  Carter, Miller, and all the domestic staff at Reynolda, with the exception of the governess Henriette Van Den Berg, were African American. Since Reynolda is located in the American South, issues of race further complicate the issues of class that feature so prominently in the subplots of Downton Abbey.

·         Romance and Class: The character Lady Sybil who died after childbirth last season, married the family’s chauffeur, Tom Branson. At Downton, the class-bound Crawleys must adjust to having a servant become a member of the family. After Sybil’s premature death, Tom Branson becomes the estate manager and works with Matthew Crawley to modernize its operations, often working against Lord Grantham. As this season opens, Tom attempts to interest his mourning sister-in-law Mary in working with him as a decision maker. At Reynolda, following the death of R. J. Reynolds in 1918, Katharine Reynolds made a surprising marriage to the much younger principal of the school in Reynolda Village, J. Edward Johnston.  A few years after Katharine’s early death following childbirth, Ed Johnston relocated to Baltimore with their infant son.

About Reynolda House
Reynolda House Museum of American Art is one of the nation’s premier American art museums, with masterpieces by Mary Cassatt, Frederic Church, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe and Gilbert Stuart among its collection.  Affiliated with Wake Forest University, Reynolda House features changing exhibitions, concerts, lectures, classes, film screenings and other events.  The museum is located in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the historic 1917 estate of Katharine Smith Reynolds and her husband, Richard Joshua Reynolds, founder of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Reynolda House and adjacent Reynolda Gardens and Reynolda Village feature a spectacular public garden, dining, shopping and walking trails. For more information, please visit or call 336.758.5150.