21 July 2018

Vista Lake Falls, Then and Now

On April 12, 1906, the New Brunswick Daily Times reported, "The James B. Duke estate at Somerville is undergoing a complete change and all previous transformations will be eclipsed by this season's extensive alterations."

Vista Lake Falls at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1913
They were referring to the construction begun that winter of what are today named Vista and Great Falls Lakes, and the dredging and enlargement of Swan Lake, which today is called Otter Lake.  This was an enormous undertaking requiring the temporary installation of a railroad to move the earth dug out by two giant steam shovels. The purpose of the lakes was to set off Duke's planned - but never completed - manor house which was to be at the site where we find the Old Foundation today.

1913 Elizabeth Nursery Company catalog

The Daily Times also reported that trainloads of evergreens were arriving from Europe to complete the landscape plan. The vintage postcard view above shows how it all looked when complete. The smaller trees give the effect of looking into the distance at a massive mountain waterfall. Unfortunately, trees grow and crowd each other out, and by 1913 Duke was forced to remove some of the trees, selling them through the Elizabeth Nursery Company.

Vista Lake Falls at Duke Farms, 2017
 As the trees grew over the decades the effect was greatly diminished. Also, trees that were allowed to grow unplanned and unchecked along the banks of the lakes have obscured the view from many of the vantage points - as can be observed in the 2017 photo above. Removing some of these trees, especially if they impact the concrete and stone bridges, would be a good start to putting the vista back in Vista Lake.

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