30 May 2015

Coach Barn and Stables, Then and Now

One building that hasn't changed much at Duke Farms is the Coach Barn. Completed in 1900, it was the first major building to be constructed on the property.  The building provided space for stables and coaches, as well as an office for J.B. Duke and his farm manager.


The Coach Barn and Stables at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1906


The Coach Barn is occasionally open to the public.  Murals depicting hunting scenes on four continents feature in the center court area, where you can also find Doris Duke's 1949 Cadillac.

The Coach Barn at Duke Farms, April 2015

23 May 2015

West Way Well House, Then and Now

According to the Duke Farms web site, J.B. Duke constructed well houses at Duke's Park in two phases, the first beginning in 1903, then again in 1906.  Wells were dug, then surrounded by a variety of structures - it appears that no two well houses are alike.  Many are still standing today, including this imposing dome of stone arches along West Way near the North Gate.



West Way Well House from a circa 1915 postcard

The only way to capture this scene is to shoot it during the winter or early spring.  The grounds today are nothing like the manicured landscaping of a century ago!


West Way Well House, March 2015

16 May 2015

Otter Lake Falls, Then and Now

The falls from Vista Lake down to Otter Lake at Duke Farms was somewhat more impressive a century ago, don't you think?  For those keeping score, Vista Lake is 45 feet above the Raritan River, Otter Lake is 31.  Duke Reservoir, where J.B. Duke's lake system begins, is at 81 feet.



Otter Lake Falls Postcard circa 1908

Otter Lake Falls, March 2015

13 May 2015

Train Collision at Belle Mead, 1950

Messrs. Cinque, Townsend and Dempsey, engineer, fireman and brakeman of  Central Jersey Railroad train number 697 were busy trying to make out the signals in the dense fog between Bound Brook and Belle Mead on the evening of October 2, 1950. Conley, the conductor, and Crane, the flagman, were riding in the caboose behind 95 fully loaded freight cars headed to Philadelphia. As they rolled past Manville on track 1 at 10:35 and Weston at 10:38, conditions were clearly worsening.



About a mile east of the Belle Mead tower, Cinque urged the engine forward past signal 142a, and began to look keenly for the next signal at the interlocking near the station. Townsend, too, searched in vain, and then Dempsey applied the brakes.

As soon as he felt the brakes, Crane threw a flare from the back of the caboose, and then jumped off, flag in hand, to protect the rear of the train.  The train was stopped while the gentlemen in the engine tried to see the signal that would allow them to move.





After 8 minutes the engineer recalled Crane, indicating he was ready to proceed. The flagman threw another caution flare, then hopped back aboard as the train increased speed.

After moving a few car lengths at a speed of about 12 mph, engineer Cinque was able to see the medium-clear signal indicating that, according to Reading's incident report, "the track was lined for movement of train from track no. 1 to track no. 3."


It was at that moment that conductor Conley and flagman Crane observed Reading train number 29 approaching fast from the rear.

Conley and Crane dove from the caboose just before impact, as had engineer W.R. Davis and fireman J.R. Byrne from the Reading engine moments after seeing the red flare and applying emergency braking.


It wasn't enough to stop the speeding Reading train, "deadheading" back to Philadelphia with just one passenger and one baggage car at 50 mph.


As you can see from the photos taken the next morning (from my personal collection), the impact was terrific. The CNJ caboose was completely destroyed, as were the two refrigerated cars just in front.  


The engine of the Reading train sustained $15,000 in damages, which would be almost $150,000 today.


The injured railroad employees were taken to Somerset Hospital in Somerville - amazingly the injuries were only minor.


Everything was put to rights within days of the accident. In fact, by virtue of the collision taking place in an area served by four sets of tracks, commuter service to New York and Philadelphia was able to resume the next morning utilizing track number 4 only.



According to the Hopewell Herald, the contents of the two refrigerated cars in the rear were scattered across the tracks. If you've read this far, take a guess what was in those cars.  It's a common item found in the produce aisle. Leave a message here or on the Gillette on Hillsborough Facebook page.




09 May 2015

Well House and Hay Barn, Then and Now

It's a pretty long walk just from the Visitor's Center at Duke Farms to the Hay Barn - over half a mile, I think.  A century ago you could stop and have a drink at the rustic Well House, just off the path on the right.


Well House and Hay Barn postcard circa 1909
Today you can still see the capped well and the ruins of the Hay Barn just beyond.


Remains of the Well House and Hay Barn at Duke Farms, March 2015
This area of Duke's Park had another important feature - a beautiful bronze reproduction of Giambologna's 16th century Flying Mercury.


Well House and Flying Mercury circa 1909

Site of the Flying Mercury statue at Duke Farms, March 2015

06 May 2015

The Sourland Mountain Murder of Peter Nixon

According to Google Maps, it would take about four hours to walk from New Hope, Pa. to the heart of the Sourland Mountain in Hunterdon County - probably longer if you attempted the trek after dark. Neither the distance nor the rough terrain were enough to deter Benjamin Peterson, who set out from his New Hope home on the evening of May 29, 1878, armed with a musket loaded with broken nails, and a determination to kill Peter Nixon - and his own wife.


New York Evening Telegram, September 5, 1878

About seven months earlier, Peterson's nineteen-year-old daughter Lucinda went to live with Nixon as his housekeeper.  Some time later that winter, Peterson's wife decided to make a visit to the mountain to visit her daughter - she didn't return.

As winter turned to spring, Peterson was bothered by stories of his wife's past infidelities, and was justifiably suspicious of this new arrangement. Thoughts of revenge began to fill his mind. With his nerve bolstered and senses deadened by booze, the cuckolded husband wrote his intentions in a letter, slid it into a pocket, and began his journey.

He arrived at the cabin around 2 am. To Nixon's cries of "who's there?" Peterson answered "a friend, come down and open the door and you will see".

When Nixon opened the door, Peterson pressed the gun's muzzle at Nixon's temple and pulled the trigger. According to The New York Times, the ammunition "went through the left side of Nixon's forehead and came out at the top of the head, carrying pieces of the skull and brain with it."

Wakened by the gunshot, Lucinda escaped by way of a bedroom window, while the terrified Mrs. Peterson hid under the bid. When her husband discovered her hiding place, she jumped out and attempted to run past him. Peterson, having reloaded, fired, grazing her cheek. Thinking that he had delivered a mortal wound, he pulled out a knife, declaring, "wife, let us die together", before slashing at his windpipe in an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

Before Peterson's first court appearance in October, newspapers from Philadelphia to New York jumped on the sensational story, being sure to point out that both Nixon and Peterson were "negroes" or "colored", and that the Sourland Mountain region was awash in lawlessness. Here is how The New York Times began an October 14, 1878 story about the upcoming trial:

The Sowerland Mountain, a range of hills eight miles from here [Flemington], has long been a terror to the surrounding country on account of the dangerous character of the inhabitants.

Despite having found Peterson's letters detailing his murderous intentions, and the long walk from New Hope to Nixon's door, the jury concluded that there was still the possibility that this had been a crime of passion, and not a premeditated murder - narrowly sparing Peterson from the death penalty. Instead he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years hard labor in the state prison.

02 May 2015

The Farnese Bull, Then and Now

This "Then and Now" surprised me.  Despite walking past the Farnese Bull dozens of times, I never noticed that at least two of the figures are completely missing!  The leftmost person has obviously disappeared, and if you look closely you may notice that a dog at the bottom right of the sculpture is also absent (along with the bull's right foreleg).
The Farnese Bull, postcard circa 1910

This impressive piece is a bronze copy of an early third century marble sculpture. Created from one solid piece of marble, the Roman sculpture was excavated in 1546 and, according to Wikipedia, is "the largest single sculpture ever recovered from antiquity to date."



The Farnese Bull at Duke Farms, 2015


It seems to be impossible to capture the scene today from the same viewpoint because of the trees growing almost right up against the base of the bronze sculpture, but I came as close as I could without obscuring the boys.