31 August 2015

Spring at Duke Farms

Dragonfly Creek

Lesser Celandine along the banks of Duke's Brook


Oak Way Stone Bridge


Vista Lake


Mermaid Pool


Duke's Brook Bridge


30 August 2015

Summer at Duke Farms

Black Eyed Susan


The Falls at Duke's Brook


Vista Lake


Vista Lake


Rose Mallow


Black and White Bridge

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.

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