08 October 2015

Three Towers, 1937

With all of the talk about the Off Track Wagering facility just approved for the old Maestro 206 site, I thought I'd share this 1937 advertising postcard of one of the first establishments to do business at that location. The Three Towers was a banquet hall, nightclub, dance hall, etc. for at least a couple of decades from the 30s through the 50s. It was a tour stop for many nationally and regionally known big bands of the era, and later rock and roll groups.

Three Towers - Entertainment, Dining, Dancing - postcard circa 1937
I have seen some posts on Facebook putting forth the idea that this spot on 206 is a bad location for a restaurant because nothing ever lasts there. I am of the opposite opinion. I believe the OTW folks chose this location because it has proven itself for decades. Yes, the businesses have changed over the years - from The Three Towers to the Jolly Ox, Duke's Farm Inn, Jaspers, the brewing company (forget the name) CocoLa, Maestro 206 - but that's to be expected. It would be more of a surprise if the same business had been there for the past 75 years. Just my opinion.

07 October 2015

Christmas Dinner, 1912

Now that the weather is turning cooler, the most wonderful time of the year can't be far off. Nothing's better than sitting down to Christmas dinner with your loved ones - as long as dad doesn't attack you with the kitchen utensils, a pitchfork, and a shotgun!

New York Tribune headline, December 27, 1912
The Balas family had only been living in Bernardsville a few months when the headline above appeared in The New York Tribune. They moved from New York City earlier that year of 1912 in the hopes that a change of scenery might cure Andrew Balas of his violent alcoholism. Apparently the cure didn't take as dad continued to drink heavily, appearing at the Christmas dinner table already heavily intoxicated. He reacted to a reprimand from Mrs. Balas by attempting to stab her with the carving fork, which was wrestled away by eighteen-year-old son John.

New York Tribune headline, December 27, 1912
When John forced his father out of the house, dad returned with an even larger fork - a pitchfork - but was again overpowered by the youth with mom's help. Balas then retrieved a shotgun from his bedroom and pointed it at his wife, beginning a frantic struggle by all three for possession of the firearm, which then discharged, wounding Balas and his wife.

The parents ended up at the hospital in Morristown, while John celebrated what was left of Christmas from a cell in Somerville. Ah, the holidays. Don't you just love 'em!

11 September 2015

Eagle Gate, Then and Now

In a previous post I commented on the fact that the original entrances to Duke's Park, the Hillsborough, N.J. estate of James B. Duke, were not gated during the heyday of public access to the grounds between 1905 and 1915. This is in evidence below in the 1910 depiction of the Eagle Gate entrance from Duke's Parkway.

The Eagle Gate at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1910
And the Eagle Gate today, below. The Eagles were restored to this location just a few years ago.

The Eagle Gate at Duke Farms, 2015

09 September 2015

"Mountain Air, Mother's Care"

New Yorkers have been sending their tykes out to "the country" for decades, centuries even. Entire institutions, such as the Fresh Air Fund - which began in 1877 - have grown up around the concept that kids need to spend their summer vacation away from city life in the Adirondacks, on Long Island, or even right here in the Sourland Mountains of Somerset County, N.J.

One such camp was operated by Mrs. G.G. Closson and her veterinarian husband in Neshanic. With good intentions, she placed tiny three-line ads, such as the one above, in New York newspapers, hoping to attract clients with the tagline: mountain air, mother's care. But when Henrietta Honius from the New Jersey Bureau of Child Hygiene made an inspection of the property in the summer of 1919, she found the children were barely receiving one of the two touted benefits.

Trenton Evening Times, September 9, 1919

In a word, conditions at the camp were appalling. Seventeen children were living and sleeping in just a few rooms of the ten room house - as many as eight to a room - in homemade berths or straw mattresses on the floor, with little ventilation. No indoor sanitary facilities were provided, and the house was found to be "generally unclean". Mrs. Honius reported to her boss, Dr. Julius Levy, that "Mrs. Closson is an unintelligent person, whose motive for conducting the place in entirely mercenary". The Clossons were receiving $4.50 per week per child in 1919.

The inspection came after parents complained that their children were returning to the city malnourished and with bedsores. Indeed Mrs. Honius further reported that "Mrs. Closson knows nothing about the proper diet for children and.... she should not be permitted to conduct such an establishment."

Ironically, it may have been this inspection that saved the camp. Upon review of the report, Dr. Levy recommended to the state that private kiddie camps should be licensed and inspected on a regular basis. One-year licenses would not be renewed if conditions were unsatisfactory.

Mrs. Closson must have taken heed. Kiddie Kamp Kumfy Kare continued in business throughout the following decade and beyond, with hundreds of city kids enjoying that Sourland Mountain air.....and mother Closson's care.

05 September 2015

What You May Have Missed

If you're not following the Gillette on Hillsborough Facebook page here, you may have missed some photos and stories that don't appear as posts on this blog - like my recent post about Miss Cora Wyckoff, the Lehigh Valley Railroad station agent at Flagtown in the 1890s.

You may also have missed all of the "extra" photos I took at Duke Farms this year while researching the Then and Now series.

Follow Gillette on Hillsborough by "liking" the Facebook page here - you'll never miss a post.

Turtle Lake, Then and Now

There is no question that James B. Duke loved flowing water. He created his Hillsborough, N.J. estate, now known officially as Duke Farms, with this in mind - constructing nine lakes at various elevations so water could flow and cascade down from one to the other.

Turtle Lake at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1907
There were also dozens of free-standing fountains, and fountains whose overflow spilled down into the lakes. If that wasn't enough, fountains also rose up from the lake themselves - as you can see in the postcard view above of Turtle Lake in 1907.

What is left of the Eagle Gate fountain at Duke Farms, September 2015

Although nearly all of the lake fountains have been decommissioned and removed over the years, if you look closely you may spot the remnants of one or two. Click on the photo below to get a better look at one of J'B. Duke's last remaining, albeit inoperative, water features.

Turtle Lake, August 2015

02 September 2015

Shooting Up the Park, 1907

By 1907, James B. Duke was used to receiving phone calls at his New York office about some sort of trouble at his Hillsborough, N.J. estate popularly known as Duke's Park. If it wasn't a serial arsonist firing one of his barns, or hundreds of trees being uprooted by the 1903 tornado, it was damage from unruly picnickers or boys shooting craps at midnight under the glow of the electric lights at the Raritan Gate fountain. We can almost imagine this conversation from July 1907, "What is it this time - are those boys from Raritan making havoc in the spring house again?"

New York Herald headline July 13, 1907
"Yes Mr. Duke, something like that. Only two boys this time....and one of them is your son."

In 1902, tobacco tycoon James B. Duke decided to turn his country retreat in Hillsborough Township, N.J. into a magnificent country estate. He began purchasing lots along the Raritan River in 1893, eventually accumulating hundreds of acres where he bred horses and cattle and engaged in general farming. He now endeavored not only to plant hundreds of thousands of trees and shrubs, excavate enormous lakes, throw up grand mountains, and import a fortune in European bronze and marble statuary - but also promised to open the grounds of his park to the public.

The Raritan Gate Fountain at the Hillsborough, N.J. estate of James B. Duke, circa 1905,
 [Doris Duke Photograph Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.]

He made good on that promise the next year - even as construction was ongoing. In these early years there were no actual gates at any of the many entrances to the park. Visitors were expected to be courteous and respectful. For the most part they were - until around 1906. Contemporary newspaper accounts from that year speak of everything from simple flower-picking to shattering of electric lights, the aforementioned nightly gambling, and automobiles run amok over lawns and footpaths. The tobacco tycoon went so far as to close the park from time to time - and indeed would eventually go to two days a week beginning in 1910, then once a month from 1915 until the park was permanently closed to the general public in the mid-twenties.

Doris Duke and Walker Inman, Sr. circa 1944,
[Doris Duke Photograph Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.]

Still, nothing could have prepared him for the news that his soon-to-be stepson Walker Inman - Duke was engaged to Walker's mother Nanaline Holt Inman - and a friend, both twelve years old, had walked over to Somerville that July morning and purchased an air rifle and enough ammunition to get in some serious trouble.

Swans on Boathouse Lake, postcard circa 1907

By way of target practice, the boys shot out electric street lights all the way back to Hillsborough - and once back on the estate proceeded to take aim at Duke's prize ducks and swans! If that wasn't enough, they took pot shots at the statuary - and at the Italian laborers who were working about the grounds.

The New York Herald reported that Walker and his buddy "were finally disarmed after breaking nearly every pane of glass in the conservatories and other buildings, besides doing other damage."

There is no report as to the young Mr. Inman's punishment for engaging in such depredations - but we can only hope that he was made to pay for repairs out of his allowance.

29 August 2015

West Way Drive, Then and Now

When Simon Morley needed to travel back in time to 1880s era New York City in Jack Finney's 1970 novel Time and Again, he holed up in the Dakota apartment building - a place unchanged since that time - where he could convince himself that he was on the upper west side of Manhattan in January 1882.  At Duke Farms, the former Hillsborough Township, NJ estate of tobacco tycoon James B. Duke and later his daughter Doris, one can almost accomplish the same by taking a stroll along West Way.

West Way Drive looking north at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1915

With Vista Lake and the Mermaid Pool on your right, and Duke Reservoir up the hill to your left, the scene in 2015 is much as it was in 1915, when the postcard view above was photographed. Yes, bicycles have replaced autos - the favored way to tour the massive Duke's Park a century ago - but when I went back this week to get a better photo than the one originally slated for this post, I found many happily strolling the promenade as they might have done in the heyday of public access to the estate from 1905 to 1915.

West Way at Duke Farms, August 2015

22 August 2015

More Duke's Brook, Then and Now

As we near the end of our photographic journey into the past life of Duke Farms, let's return to one of the hidden gems of James B. Duke's magnificent Hillsborough, NJ estate - Duke's Brook.

Duke's Brook postcard, 1906
I call this minor tributary of the Raritan River a hidden gem because within the current configuration of Duke Farms, there are only a few spots to get close to the waterway - at the entrance on Duke's Parkway, which I photographed for the first installment of this series, at the old railroad bridge, and at the bridge near the Eagle Gate entrance.

Each of the two bridges can be accessed from Habitat Lane which parallels the river along the southern boundary of the historic core of the property.

Duke's Brook at Duke Farms, April 2015
When I snapped this photo back in April, it wasn't for this series. I didn't realize until months later that I had come very close to capturing the scene from the same vantage point as the postcard photographer 109 years ago.

15 August 2015

More Vista Lake Fountains, Then and Now

A couple of months ago I posted about the fountains that once cascaded down from the plaza between the two bridges into Vista Lake at Duke Farms.  Today I present two more century-old views of this spectacular set of waterworks commissioned and built by James B. Duke at his estate in Hillsborough, N.J.

Vista Lake Fountains from below the bridge, postcard circa 1915

Even in the winter, or in this case the first day of spring, it is extremely difficult to capture the scene as depicted in the postcards. There is just too much vegetation! In any case, I think you get the idea.

Below Great Falls Lake Bridge, March 2015
 Below is the view as you cross the bridge heading towards the Great Falls.

Vista Lake Fountains from the bridge, postcard circa 1915