18 August 2018

The Hay Barn, Then and Now

At 7 p.m. on the evening of January 21, 1915, one hundred and twenty-five area firemen had just sat down to their annual dinner at Forrester's Hall on the corner of Main and Bridge Streets in Somerville. No sooner had the toasting begun than word came of a big fire at the J.B. Duke estate across the river in Hillsborough. As soon as they got out to the street they could see the smoke and glow of the fire. The fire burned so brightly that night that it could easily be seen from Plainfield. In fact, those living east of the Queen City assumed the fire was there - that's how vivid it was.

The Hay Barn at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905
When the Somerville Chemical Engine and Hook and Ladder Companies, joined by the Raritan Relief Hose Company arrived at the fire they recognized the building as Duke's grand hay barn. Unfortunately, the most they could do was prevent the fire from spreading to the nearest house, the home of Duke's superintendent David Smith just across Duke's Parkway. The barn burned down to the stone and brick walls, as you see it today.

The Hay Barn at Duke Farms, 2017
Duke was appreciative of the work of the firefighters - all of whom managed to return to the banquet within a couple of hours of the alarm - and awarded each of the companies $75 in gratitude.

In later years, Doris Duke moved some of the once-magnificent Duke's Park statuary into the barn to form a sculpture garden. In 2015, restoration was done to prevent water from getting into the exposed tops of the stone walls.

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