Green comes in many shades.
When Duke Farms fully reopens on Earth Day 2011, the general public will be granted the type of access to the 2500 acre estate that they haven't enjoyed in over a century. It was on September 7, 1906 that tobacco king James B. Duke announced that he was being forced to close the grounds of his Hillsborough estate, known popularly as "Duke's Park", because of vandalism. This was the first of several closings and reopenings over the next few years until the estate was finally closed for good.
The estate had always been used for public recreation since it was opened several years earlier. By 1906, Duke was spending $4000 a week on upkeep - only to see his beautiful grounds being destroyed by unruly picnickers who not only overran the lawns with their automobiles, picked flowers, and uprooted shrubbery, but also did extensive damage to the electric light system and shattered the slab on the floor of the spring house.
The NEW Duke's Park is being designed with the environment in mind. Invasive plant species have been removed, meadows have been restored, and the entire project is supposed to be a model of environmental stewardship. It is all part of the mission of the Duke Farms Foundation, set up after the death of Doris Duke to administer the property according to her wishes.
It is ironic, however, that the original James B. Duke estate was the antithesis of "environmental stewardship". Duke lived in an age where men were proud to be able to remake their environment to suit their needs, not live in harmony with it. To that end, he drained marshes, destroyed habitat, built a dozen man made lakes, imported all kinds of non-native plant species, and constructed twenty miles of paved roads.
In July of 1907, he even managed to pump the Raritan River dry in an effort to supply water for his many lakes, waterfalls, and fountains. The Raritan Woolen Mills, which employed 1000 men, was forced to temporarily close because there was no water at the intake to supply the steam boiler.
In 1911, Duke unwittingly introduced gypsy moth caterpillars to New Jersey when he received an infested shipment of blue spruces from Europe. The voracious insect was first discovered on the estate in 1920, already having done considerable damage. By 1921, 410 square miles were infested by the gypsy moth with the epicenter being the Duke estate.
Which is not to say that what James B. Duke created in Hillsborough was not a wonderful achievement. He celebrated nature in his own way - by recreating it in much the same way New York's' Central Park was recreated out of a marshy wetland in central Manhattan. It is hoped that the new Duke's Park will find a way to celebrate Duke's original vision even as it paints itself in a different shade of 21st century green.