04 July 2016

A "Safe and Sane" Fourth at Duke's Park

Area residents couldn't have been surprised to see the heavy wrought iron gates being installed at the entrance to all of the private roads of J.B. Duke's Hillsborough Township estate in the spring of 1910. Ongoing vandalism had plagued the grounds for a number of years, thwarting the tobacco millionaire's plans for unlimited public access to Duke's Park. In conjunction with the gates, the New Brunswick Daily Home News reported on May 31, 1910 that the park would only be open to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays.

23 May 1913 New Brunswick Daily Home News

Three years later, the newspaper reported that the Duke estate would host a "safe and sane" Fourth of July celebration for the residents of Somerville, Raritan, and the surrounding countryside. It was about this time that Duke completed what was one of the great tourist attractions at the estate - the Fountain Terraces. No trace remains of the magnificent fountains, waterfalls, and temples at today's Duke Farms, as the entire area was removed by Doris Duke in the 1930s.

The Fountain Terraces at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1915
Apparently the July 4th event became a tradition - one that Duke was keen on keeping despite continuing problems with vandalism. In May 1916, he amended his 1915 edict that closed the park permanently - allowing for applications to be made to open the park one day per month for special events. This was just in time for the Anti-Tuberculosis Association to make an appeal to hold their annual July 4th event at the park. The highlight of the celebration 100 years ago was a Grand Elizabethan Pageant with more than 200 performers. Music, dancing, and other attractions not only entertained guests to the park, but money was also raised to support visiting nurses.

10 June 1916 New Brunswick Daily Home News

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