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

08 August 2015

View From The Hill, Then and Now

What do you do if you want to build a mansion on a hill overlooking the water, but there's no hill - and no bodies of water - on your property? If you're tobacco tycoon J.B. Duke, you simply excavate an enormous lake and use the tons of removed earth to create a hill. That's exactly what the millionaire entrepreneur accomplished at Duke Farms more than a century ago. excavating not one, but nine connected lakes, transforming the farmland of Hillsborough Township, New Jersey into Duke's Park.
Excavating Vista Lake, circa 1907
Duke didn't let the lack of a perfect vista get in the way of siting his never completed mansion exactly where he wanted it. Temporary railways, steam shovels, and hundreds of laborers were employed in creating the million dollar view.

The view from the Old Foundation, postcard circa 1920s
As I attempted to duplicate this postcard scene a few months ago, I had to wonder how the photographer was able to capture the fountain and lake from such a high vantage point. I held the camera way over my head, but it wasn't nearly enough.



The view from the Old Foundation, 2015

Could this brief news item from the July 22, 1922 edition of the New Brunswick Daily Home News provide a clue?

New Brunswick Daily Home News, July 22, 1922






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.

video

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