18 August 2018

The Hay Barn, Then and Now

At 7 p.m. on the evening of January 21, 1915, one hundred and twenty-five area firemen had just sat down to their annual dinner at Forrester's Hall on the corner of Main and Bridge Streets in Somerville. No sooner had the toasting begun than word came of a big fire at the J.B. Duke estate across the river in Hillsborough. As soon as they got out to the street they could see the smoke and glow of the fire. The fire burned so brightly that night that it could easily be seen from Plainfield. In fact, those living east of the Queen City assumed the fire was there - that's how vivid it was.

The Hay Barn at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905
When the Somerville Chemical Engine and Hook and Ladder Companies, joined by the Raritan Relief Hose Company arrived at the fire they recognized the building as Duke's grand hay barn. Unfortunately, the most they could do was prevent the fire from spreading to the nearest house, the home of Duke's superintendent David Smith just across Duke's Parkway. The barn burned down to the stone and brick walls, as you see it today.

The Hay Barn at Duke Farms, 2017
Duke was appreciative of the work of the firefighters - all of whom managed to return to the banquet within a couple of hours of the alarm - and awarded each of the companies $75 in gratitude.

In later years, Doris Duke moved some of the once-magnificent Duke's Park statuary into the barn to form a sculpture garden. In 2015, restoration was done to prevent water from getting into the exposed tops of the stone walls.

11 August 2018

The South Gate, Then and Now

Today, pedestrians and bicyclists enter the park area of Duke Farms - the Hillsborough, NJ estate of tobacco tycoon James B. Duke - by way of the South Gate across Duke's Parkway from the Farm Barn Orientation Center.

The South Gate at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905

Before 1915 automobiles were permitted also, and access was liberally granted at all of the private roads through the property. In 1910 Duke decided to limit access to Tuesdays and Fridays, and he installed iron gates across all of the entrances.

31 May 1910 Home News
After a large group of autoists from Pennsylvania drove over the lawns and tore up the grounds in 1915, Access was further limited to just one day per month.

The South Gate at Duke Farms, 2017
When Duke Farms reopened general access to the grounds in 2012 they went to a six-day a week schedule, Thursday through Tuesday.

04 August 2018

South Branch Railroad Bridge, Then and Now

When writing about the abandoned railroad line that runs from the northeast to the southwest through Duke Farms, it might be useful to note that James B. Duke - the tobacco magnate who bought the first property in Hillsborough Township of what would eventually become a 2,500-acre estate in 1893 - had almost nothing to do with it.

South Branch Railroad Bridge at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905
A common misconception is that Duke either built or caused to be built a private railroad through Duke's Park. On the contrary, the South Branch Railroad - an independent railroad company - opened their line from Somerville to Flemington on July 1, 1864. The young James Duke was just seven years old.

1954 USGS Map.
The blue arrow indicates the location of the railroad bridge.
The red arrow indicates the location of Duke's siding.

As Duke accumulated land and the roads that passed through them, he set about improving the rights-of-way and especially the many bridges over brooks and streams. To that end, he impressively rebuilt the railroad bridge over Duke's Brook which is the feature of this post.

South Branch Railroad Bridge at Duke Farms, 2015
The Central Railroad of New Jersey had already purchased the South Branch Railroad in 1888 and integrated it into their operations. Duke built a small siding off of the line where he was able to receive deliveries and keep a private railroad car. On at least one occasion in 1906 George F. Baer, president of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad, had his own private railroad car run onto the siding hidden in the woods of the estate and slept there overnight.

Passenger service on the South Branch was discontinued in 1953, and freight service declined steadily over the next couple of decades. By 1981 the rails were removed from the portion of the line through Duke Farms, but the right-of-way was still owned by Central Jersey Industries - the company that was created after the railroad's bankruptcy. Somerset County tried unsuccessfully to purchase the right-of-way for a bike trail in the 1970s.  

Heiress Doris Duke was accused of illegally removing gravel from the roadbed in 1983, as well as placing large boulders to block vehicle access. In the end, she was able to purchase the property when it was auctioned in 1985.

28 July 2018

Frog Lake Waterfall, Then and Now

You can find the Duke Farms "Frog Lake Waterfall" just inside the Raritan Gate at the northwest corner of the historic core of James B. Duke's Hillsborough estate.

Waterfall at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905
This is an area that up until this past year has not been accessible to the public since Doris Duke closed River Road through her property in 1931.

Frog Lake Waterfall at Duke Farms, 2017
From this point, the water flows under the road and into Snake Lake before returning to the Raritan River.

21 July 2018

Vista Lake Falls, Then and Now

On April 12, 1906, the New Brunswick Daily Times reported, "The James B. Duke estate at Somerville is undergoing a complete change and all previous transformations will be eclipsed by this season's extensive alterations."

Vista Lake Falls at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1913
They were referring to the construction begun that winter of what are today named Vista and Great Falls Lakes, and the dredging and enlargement of Swan Lake, which today is called Otter Lake.  This was an enormous undertaking requiring the temporary installation of a railroad to move the earth dug out by two giant steam shovels. The purpose of the lakes was to set off Duke's planned - but never completed - manor house which was to be at the site where we find the Old Foundation today.

1913 Elizabeth Nursery Company catalog

The Daily Times also reported that trainloads of evergreens were arriving from Europe to complete the landscape plan. The vintage postcard view above shows how it all looked when complete. The smaller trees give the effect of looking into the distance at a massive mountain waterfall. Unfortunately, trees grow and crowd each other out, and by 1913 Duke was forced to remove some of the trees, selling them through the Elizabeth Nursery Company.

Vista Lake Falls at Duke Farms, 2017
 As the trees grew over the decades the effect was greatly diminished. Also, trees that were allowed to grow unplanned and unchecked along the banks of the lakes have obscured the view from many of the vantage points - as can be observed in the 2017 photo above. Removing some of these trees, especially if they impact the concrete and stone bridges, would be a good start to putting the vista back in Vista Lake.

14 July 2018

Orchid Range Interior, Then and Now

The orchid Range at Duke Farms was built between 1899 and 1901. It was the second major structure completed at Hillsborough, New Jersey estate of tobacco magnate James B. Duke following the coach barn and stables.

Conservatory Interior at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1907
Traditionally known as The Conservatory, the main building was originally used to grow mostly ferns.

Ad from The Architectural Record, December 1905

The greenhouses behind the conservatory were used to cultivate roses.
April 1904, The Suburbanite

The building underwent a complete overhaul for the grand opening of Duke Farms in 2012.

Orchid Range Interior at Duke Farms, 2017

07 July 2018

Old Foundation Fountain, Then and Now

One might think of fountains and terraces and gardens and assorted landscaping as the finishing touches to one's home but for James B. Duke's Hillsborough, New Jersey estate all of these things were built first - and many can still be seen today.

Foundation Fountain at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1915
Duke first contemplated a large manor house for the property around 1902 but began planning in earnest after he returned from a European honeymoon with his first wife in 1904. By 1905 he had given his architects the go-ahead to begin the landscape design, even while the house was going through its several permutations on the drafting table.

One of the designs for Duke's "country home"

The finished designs which have survived show what would have been the "terrace" facade facing the great lawn. The entrance was to have been on the other side overlooking the lakes. This is the side where you can find the 1915 postcard view of the central fountain, and my snapshot of the scene from 2017.

Old Foundation Fountain at Duke Farms, 2017

After divorcing in 1906 and remarrying in 1907, excitement about the mansion gradually dwindled, and the plan was given up.

02 July 2018

World War I Ends in Raritan, 1921

Most wars have two endings - the end of hostilities, and the signing of a treaty. Such is the case with the Great War of 1914-1918 which formally ended on July 2, 1921, in Raritan, New Jersey.

3 July 1921 New Brunswick Sunday Times
President Warren G. Harding and New Jersey Senator Joseph Frelinghuysen were golf buddies from the time when they served in the Senate together - often spending hours together on the links in Maryland. After Harding became President in 1921, it was only natural for him to spend some vacation time with Frelinghuysen at his Raritan Estate. After all, it was adjacent to the Raritan Valley Country Club.

The Frelinghuysen Mansion circa 1891 -
P.C. Richard & Son is on the site today

With the July 4th holiday falling on a Monday in 1921, the President came north to enjoy a long weekend of golf in the country. On July 2nd he received word that a messenger was on his way carrying the Knox-Porter Resolution - the document that officially ended America's role in World War I.

10 July 1921 Home News

Harding signed the resolution with little fanfare in the Frelinghuysen mansion, surrounded by family, friends, aides, and a few politicians. Afterward, reporters were eager to ask the President about the big prize-fight the previous evening with Jack Dempsey retaining his world championship. Harding seemed oblivious to the bout the whole country was talking about, asking, "Was it a good fight?"

19 July 1921 Home News
Harding golfed every day that weekend, including on July 4th. Before heading to the first tee on that day, he christened a nine-foot rowboat built by Frelinghuysen's son Joseph, Jr. It was noted that this was the first "ship" launched by the President.

8 July 1921 Morning News
After eighteen holes, the President and the Senator returned to Frelinghuysen's home, where they spent the afternoon greeting hundreds, maybe thousands, of area residents on the lawn of the estate.

8 July 1921 Home News
Frelinghuysen served in the Senate until March 1923. He contemplated running again in 1938, but decided against it and instead retired to Arizona where he died in 1948.

27 August 1957 Courier News
The mansion was used for a time by the State Police before being acquired by real estate developer Philip J. Levin in 1952. He planned a shopping center on the site, and eventually got around to razing the house in 1957.

The original concept for Raritan shopping center

Less than three weeks into the demolition, the house - which was built in 1874 and also visited by presidents Taft, Coolidge, and Hoover, was struck by an arsonist.

12 September 1957 Courier News
Today there is a marker near a spot that would have been the entrance to the estate. Electronics retailer P.C. Richard & Son sits at the approximate site of the mansion.

March 2014

30 June 2018

Mermaid Pool Picnic Area, Then and Now

Many of the century-old architectural landscape features at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey, are made of cast concrete, also known as cast stone.

Picnic Area at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1907

A good example of this is the terrace along West Way near the Mermaid Pool, which also happens to feature in an for Medusa White Cement - a material applied to the concrete which is supposed to keep it "permanently white, stainless and waterproof."

Medusa White-Cement ad, 1917
Take a walk along West Way, over the bridges, and to the Old Foundation and see for yourself how Medusa has held up over the years. Do you think it's time for a new coat?

Mermaid Pool Picnic Area at Duke Farms, 2016

23 June 2018

Lovers Lane West End, Then and Now

Today, Duke Farms calls the road that runs east-west across the northern end of the "historic core" of James B. Duke's Hillsborough, NJ estate Overlook Way. At the time the postcard image below was captured in 1907 - half a decade into Duke's transformation of his gentleman's farm into a world-class semi-public park - it was called Lover's Lane.

Lovers Lane at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1907
But the road predates Duke's 1893 purchase of the property by centuries. It is simply a continuation of the River Road from South Branch to Somerville. In the center of the intersection with the road that leads across the Nevius Street Bridge into Raritan Duke installed a massive imported marble fountain with bronze figures. In those early days, there were no gates at any of the entrances, including of course at this public road which led straight past Duke's house to Frazee's Hill then South Bridge Street.

Postcard circa 1906
After Duke's 1925 death, his widow, Nanaline, and daughter, Doris, sought to have the road closed. Hillsborough Township was willing, but virulent opposition from Raritan, Somerville, Manville, and Bridgewater nixed the plan. Finally in 1931, with Duke Farms assurance that Roycefield Road to Woodville Road (Duke's Parkway East) would remain open, the road was closed.

Overlook Way, Duke Farms, 2016