01 August 2015

Mermaid Pool, Then and Now

The Mermaid Pool has been an attraction at Duke Farms for more than a century. Part of J. B. Duke's interconnected lake system, water flows down from the Duke Reservoir and under West Way to fill the pool, which at one time featured six smaller water spouts surrounding a large central fountain.

Mermaid Pool at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1915
Water then flows through the watercourse pictured in the postcard above and under the bridge where a young Doris Duke can be seen admiring her reflection, eventually cascading down into Vista Lake.

Doris Duke at the Mermaid Pool, circa 1922

Today the well-kept  Mermaid Pool lawn is a favorite picnic spot.

Mermaid Pool at Duke Farms, April 2015

Although the smaller fountains are no longer present, I am happy to report that the central fountain is once again operational! See for yourself below.


25 July 2015

Lover's Lane, Then and Now

Old postcards are not only a great resource for discovering what Duke Farms looked like a century ago, but can also reveal long forgotten names of lanes, and bridges, and bodies of water at J.B. Duke's "Duke's Park".

Lover's Lane at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1907

I previously took note of "Hoo Doo Bridge" on Habitat Lane - but a study of the postcards in my personal collection provides us with "Swan Falls", "Woodville Falls", "Silver Cascades", "Shady Nook Drive", "Willow Lake", and other disused monikers.  This week, we have the practically unchanged view facing west on Overlook Way, formerly named "Lover's Lane" - at least at the time the original postcard view was printed in 1907.

Overlook Way at Duke Farms. April 1915

18 July 2015

Great Falls, Then and Now

Although the connected lake system at Duke Farms isn't functioning today as it did over 100 years ago when first conceived and built by James B. Duke, the Great Falls are operational and flow at least a couple of times each day.

Great Falls postcard circa 1915

Great Falls at Duke Farms, May 2015

11 July 2015

Conservation Lane Bridge,Then and Now

I am not sure what the stone bridge to the east of the Farm Barn at Duke Farms is called, but I'm calling it the Conservation Lane Bridge. 

Conservation Lane Bridge, postcard circa 1905

Yes, this is the first photo in this series where I've been foiled by sticking to my game plan of not venturing off the paths and into the brush to get the shot. So this one is from a different angle, but you get the idea.

Conservation Lane Bridge at Duke Farms April 2015
The bridge is still in very good condition well over a century since its construction - still, I wish Duke Farms would do more to preserve these beautiful structures.

04 July 2015

Vista Lake Fountains, Then and Now

Fountains of all kinds were a major attraction at Duke Farms a century ago when the Hillsborough, New Jersey estate of tobacco tycoon James B. Duke was still popularly known as Duke's Park. So important were the water displays that Duke wouldn't even consider having the grounds open to the public unless all of the fountains and falls were operational. 

Vista Lake Fountains, postcard circa 1915

It was eventually decided that the park would only be open to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays. The stated reason for the reduction was the unruly behavior of some guests, but it was also noted that the fountains would only be active while the park was open - no doubt saving a great deal of money.

New Brunswick Daily Home News, May 31, 1910

New Brunswick Daily Home News, September 19, 1910
If you take a walk on Fox Hollow Lane along the lower drive around Vista Lake you may still imagine the sight of the magnificent fountains with the overflow cascading down over the stone embankment. No wonder the editor of the New Brunswick Daily Home News decried the lack of access to the working people of central New Jersey!

The view from Fox Hollow Lane across Vista Lake at Duke Farms, April 2015

27 June 2015

Great Falls Lake Bridge, Then and Now

The next time you are hiking at Duke Farms, begin near Great Falls, and follow Fox Hollow Lane until you come to this view of Great Falls Lake Bridge. Still impressive almost 100 years later.

A view of Great Falls Lake Bridge from Fox Hollow Lane, postcard circa 1923
The lower drive around the lake must have been a favorite of James B. Duke and his wife Nanaline. They can be seen alighting from their coach near the underpass of the bridge in the second scene shown in the excerpts of Doris Duke's home movies. Take a look.

And here is the bridge today.

A view of Great Falls Lake Bridge from Fox Hollow Lane, May 2015

20 June 2015

Hoo Doo Bridge, Then and Now

Hoo Doo? Who knew? The bridge on Habitiat Lane over the small creek is Hoo Doo Bridge - at least according to the circa 1906 postcard below.  You can clearly see from the postcard how the estate was carefully landscaped at one time, and how much of it was left to grow in naturally over the years.

Hoo Doo Bridge postcard circa 1906

Hoo Doo Bridge at Duke Farms, April 2015

18 June 2015

"Yard" Sale at Belle Mead General Depot, 1946

Now that yard sale season is in full swing in Hillsborough, N.J., let's take a look back at what was likely the largest cash and carry outdoor sale in our history.

After the end of World War II, the War Assets Administration was given the task of disposing of millions of dollars worth of surplus goods, machinery, vehicles, etc.

Returning veterans were given the first chance to get their hands on unneeded clothing, household equipment, office supplies, farm equipment, hardware, and all the rest.

All of these ads appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in December 1946 and January 1947.

16 June 2015

Wedding Day at Duke Farms, 1915

Today, June 16, 2015, marks the 100th anniversary of what is likely the most lavish event ever hosted at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey. The occasion was the wedding of J.B. Duke's favorite niece, Mary L. Duke, to Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr. of Philadelphia. As most contemporary newspaper accounts noted, the marriage completed a unique union between two great families of New York and Philadelphia society, as the bride's brother was wedded to the groom's sister two months previously.

Mary L. Duke and A.J. Drexel Biddle. Jr. and their attendants
 in front of the residence at Duke Farms, June 16, 1915

To accommodate the 600 attendees, a special platform topped with a spectacular blue and white awning was built along the South Branch Railroad which transected the Duke Estate. Guests arriving from New York and Philadelphia on private rail cars were dispatched through Somerville and right to the platform in the heart of Duke Farms, where automobiles were waiting to take them to Duke's country manor at the northern end of the property.

Duke-Biddle wedding invitation, 1915

J.B. Duke spared no expense getting his estate ready for the grand occasion. It was said that he spent two weeks personally overseeing every aspect of the preparations. 

Postcard view of the Duke residence circa 1913

The ceremony, performed by Bishop Darlington, began at 5 p.m. in the Palm Room. This is how it was described by The New York Times:

The ceremony was performed in the palm room, which had a vaulted ceiling and a mezzanine gallery. This room, in the centre of the house, with a wide entrance hall leading to the porte cochere, was transformed into a chapel of flowers. The multi-paned windows, soft lights, and the tones of an organ gave the place the atmosphere of a chapel in the woods, for the boughs of the trees waved in the breeze close to the open windows, and from afar was heard the splash of many fountains.
An aisle was formed with high gilt standards, topped with great masses of peonies of roses, and connected with white satin ribbons. The bridal party, entering from the front entrance, passed up the aisle to a chancel of flowers, while the guests stood grouped close together on either side. [I should think so, I have been in those rooms, and they don't hold 600!] In fact, the capacity of the palm room was over-taxed, and there were guests in the mezzanine gallery. Outside the high windows, looking down from the second-story roof, were assembled many of the servants and employees on the estate.


The Palm Room at the Duke residence in Hillsborough, New Jersey,
from a newspaper story circa 1911 
Newspaper stories were sure to describe the gowns, jewels, and flowers worn and carried by the wedding party and their guests. Suffice it to say that they are exactly what you would expect from a wedding where the gifts to the bride amounted to about $7 million in 2015 dollars, and Mr. Drexel Biddle, Sr. presented Mr. Drexel Biddle, Jr. a check for $200,000 (about $4.5 million today). 

After the ceremony, guests adjourned to the lawn to congratulate the newlyweds and partake in refreshments. Special trains for New York and Philadelphia departed at 7:30, but many of the younger guests remained, dancing and partying as the orchestra played into the evening.

Doris Duke, not yet three years old, performed her flower girl duties
 in a white lace frock with a pink sash.
Pure conjecture on my part, but the Biddle-Duke wedding of 1915 may have been something of a test run for the event that was sure to have eclipsed it in every way - the eventual wedding of J.B. Duke's daughter Doris. The heiress who served as flower-girl for her older cousin was not yet three in 1915, and tragically was just twelve when her father died in 1925.

15 June 2015

No More Kings?

Today, June 15, 2015, marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, England. King John agreed that no man, not even the king, was above the law. The ideas about liberty in this document are what separate English-speaking people from the rest of the world, and from where American Exceptionalism is ultimately derived.

The Magna Carta is presented to King John at Runnymede, June 15, 2015
Now that we are almost as removed from the 1620 Mayflower Pilgrims as they were from the English barons who confronted King John, let's remember that unlike the tagline of "No More Kings" - the Schoolhouse Rock song from our Saturday-morning youth - "we're going to elect a president, he's going to do what the people say", the expulsion of the king and the election of a president is not what protects the people from tyranny.

Colonists lived in America for 150 years as Englishmen with the rights, privileges, and liberty - even under the sovereign - as other Englishmen. When new rules were made for them, and they found they did not enjoy the same representation as their forebears across the pond, they reacted to the tyranny, and the revolution was begun.

Two decades later, the Constitution - an improvement on the Magna Carta as it guarantees the liberty of all citizens, not just feudal barons - was adopted. The checks and balances therein were acknowledgements by the founders that all governments, even duly elected ones, could become tyrannical over time.

We see this around the world all the time when despotic rulers tout their "free elections", with no constitution guaranteeing any real freedoms at all!

On this day, we should look to our Constitution's Ninth Amendment, and remember the "other" rights and the Magna Carta:

 "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."