20 April 2019

Easter Sunrise Service at Duke's Park, 1926 - 1969

In the winter of 1926, twenty-one-year-old Hillsborough resident Evelyn Funkhouser had an idea to bring the youth of Somerset County together to celebrate Easter. As president of the County Young People's Inter-Sunday School Council, she was well-placed to achieve her goal.

 [Doris Duke Photograph Collection,
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.]

Miss Funkhouser's plan was for an early morning sunrise service open to all of the various Protestant denominations of the county which would include music and an inspirational speaker. The early start - six o'clock that first year and typically five-thirty in subsequent years - meant that the festivities would not interfere with Easter services at the area churches. She quickly received the endorsement of local pastors, and more importantly of the managers of the desired locale - Duke's Park.

26 March 1930 Home News

Duke's Park, the sprawling Hillsborough, NJ estate of tobacco tycoon James B. Duke was an inspired choice, especially considering that after Duke's death in October 1925, the future of the park - which he began to assemble in 1893 and opened to the public around 1902 - was uncertain. The estate offered a near-perfect venue for such an event - the lawn in front of the abandoned foundation to the never-completed Duke mansion.

"The Foundation" Duke Farms, May 2012
The speaker that first year was Rev. Frank Hunger, pastor of the Spring Street Presbyterian Church in New York and a Marine Corps veteran of the first World War. After that first year, Boy Scouts of Raritan were enlisted to help with directing automobiles through the entrances off of Duke's Parkway and River Road. By 1932, the sunrise service was regularly drawing crowds of over 1,000 attracted by the beautiful scenery, the music - typically cornet ensembles, local church choirs, and soloists - and the inspirational messages delivered by speakers from New York, Philadelphia, and all around New Jersey.

28 March 1932 Courier News
After the first decade - as responsibility for the event passed from the Young People's Council to the Somerset County Christian Associations - with attendance still regularly reaching 1,000 people, visiting "the foundations" on Easter morning became an eagerly anticipated ritual for the believers of Somerset County.

 [Doris Duke Photograph Collection,
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.]
The service was canceled at the height of World War II in 1944, and then again in 1947 and 1948 because of extreme weather. After that, the event continued yearly for another two decades until the final service in 1969.

No comments:

Post a Comment