30 June 2018

Mermaid Pool Picnic Area, Then and Now

Many of the century-old architectural landscape features at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey, are made of cast concrete, also known as cast stone.

Picnic Area at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1907


A good example of this is the terrace along West Way near the Mermaid Pool, which also happens to feature in an for Medusa White Cement - a material applied to the concrete which is supposed to keep it "permanently white, stainless and waterproof."



Medusa White-Cement ad, 1917
Take a walk along West Way, over the bridges, and to the Old Foundation and see for yourself how Medusa has held up over the years. Do you think it's time for a new coat?




Mermaid Pool Picnic Area at Duke Farms, 2016


23 June 2018

Lovers Lane West End, Then and Now

Today, Duke Farms calls the road that runs east-west across the northern end of the "historic core" of James B. Duke's Hillsborough, NJ estate Overlook Way. At the time the postcard image below was captured in 1907 - half a decade into Duke's transformation of his gentleman's farm into a world-class semi-public park - it was called Lover's Lane.


Lovers Lane at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1907
But the road predates Duke's 1893 purchase of the property by centuries. It is simply a continuation of the River Road from South Branch to Somerville. In the center of the intersection with the road that leads across the Nevius Street Bridge into Raritan Duke installed a massive imported marble fountain with bronze figures. In those early days, there were no gates at any of the entrances, including of course at this public road which led straight past Duke's house to Frazee's Hill then South Bridge Street.

Postcard circa 1906
After Duke's 1925 death, his widow, Nanaline, and daughter, Doris, sought to have the road closed. Hillsborough Township was willing, but virulent opposition from Raritan, Somerville, Manville, and Bridgewater nixed the plan. Finally in 1931, with Duke Farms assurance that Roycefield Road to Woodville Road (Duke's Parkway East) would remain open, the road was closed.


Overlook Way, Duke Farms, 2016


16 June 2018

Wood Duck Lake and Falls, Then and Now

Also known as Willy Jones Lake, Wood Duck Lake is easily the most obscure large body of water at Duke Farms. Despite being approximately the same size as Heron Lake and Turtle Lake, its location on the far side of Duke's "mountain" definitely puts it off the beaten path.


Willy Jones Lake and Falls, 1920s postcard

I've hiked out that way numerous times, and have never had any company except for red-winged blackbirds!





The main feature of the lake is a waterfall that occasionally spills down from the western end of Great Falls Lake. I have only observed the waterfall in action a couple of times over the past six years. It's best to go after a few days of heavy rain.



Wood Duck Lake and Falls, 2015



09 June 2018

Farm Barn, Then and Now

When James B. Duke purchased the first properties of what would become his country estate along the Raritan River in Hillsborough in 1893, he immediately decided that creating a world-class stud farm would be the proper pursuit for a millionaire bachelor tobacco magnate.


Stables at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1913

To that end, he hired a trainer, built the stables that we know of today as the Coach Barn, built another set of stables - now lost-, and began assembling a collection of champion stallions. 

1894 Duke's Farm trade journal advertisement

As the property grew through the acquisition of neighboring farms, Duke ordered the construction of a massive stable on the south side of Duke's Parkway (in those days called Woodville Road). The 22,000 square foot stone and timber building was completed in 1906. If you take a walk behind the building today, you can picture trotters and pacers being exercised on the intersecting looping paths through the meadow.


The Sower at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905

Waiting for the completion of the stables was an impressive bronze statue purchased by Duke while on a tour through Europe. "The Sower", or more fully, "The Sower From the Time of the Great Elector", was created by German sculptor Stephan Anton Friedrich Walter and depicts a peasant of the 1600s sowing his fields. Look closely at the postcard at the top of this post and you can see The Sower at the entrance to the barn. In 1914 Duke gifted the statue to Trinity College - now Duke University - where it remains today.


The Farm Barn in the 1980s - photo by Arthur Brecknell

Duke was also breeding cattle during this period - his most famous prized Guernsey bull was Lord Stranford - which in the decades after James Duke's death in 1925 led to the conversion of the stables for a full-scale dairy operation.

The Farm Barn in the 1980s - photo by Arthur Brecknell


The Farm Barn underwent a Platinum Leed Certified renovation for its adaptive reuse as the orientation center for the Duke Farms opening in 2012.


The Farm Barn at Duke Farms, 2017