27 June 2015

Great Falls Lake Bridge, Then and Now

The next time you are hiking at Duke Farms, begin near Great Falls and follow Fox Hollow Lane until you come to this view of Great Falls Lake Bridge. Still impressive almost 100 years later.

A view of Great Falls Lake Bridge from Fox Hollow Lane, postcard circa 1923

The lower drive around the lake must have been a favorite of James B. Duke and his wife Nanaline. They can be seen alighting from their coach near the underpass of the bridge in the second scene shown in the excerpts of Doris Duke's home movies. Take a look.

And here is the bridge today.

A view of Great Falls Lake Bridge from Fox Hollow Lane, May 2015

20 June 2015

Hoo Doo Bridge, Then and Now

Hoo Doo? Who knew? The bridge on Habitiat Lane over the small creek is Hoo Doo Bridge - at least according to the circa 1906 postcard below.  You can clearly see from the postcard how the estate was carefully landscaped at one time, and how much of it was left to grow in naturally over the years.

Hoo Doo Bridge postcard circa 1906

Hoo Doo Bridge at Duke Farms, April 2015

18 June 2015

"Yard" Sale at Belle Mead General Depot, 1946

Now that yard sale season is in full swing in Hillsborough, N.J., let's take a look back at what was likely the largest cash and carry outdoor sale in our history.

After the end of World War II, the War Assets Administration was given the task of disposing of millions of dollars worth of surplus goods, machinery, vehicles, etc.

Returning veterans were given the first chance to get their hands on unneeded clothing, household equipment, office supplies, farm equipment, hardware, and all the rest.

All of these ads appeared in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in December 1946 and January 1947.

16 June 2015

Wedding Day at Duke Farms, 1915

Today, June 16, 2015, marks the 100th anniversary of what is likely the most lavish event ever hosted at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey. The occasion was the wedding of J.B. Duke's favorite niece, Mary L. Duke, to Anthony Joseph Drexel Biddle, Jr. of Philadelphia. As most contemporary newspaper accounts noted, the marriage completed a unique union between two great families of New York and Philadelphia society, as the bride's brother was wedded to the groom's sister two months previously.

Mary L. Duke and A.J. Drexel Biddle. Jr. and their attendants
 in front of the residence at Duke Farms, June 16, 1915

To accommodate the 600 attendees, a special platform topped with a spectacular blue and white awning was built along the South Branch Railroad which transected the Duke Estate. Guests arriving from New York and Philadelphia on private rail cars were dispatched through Somerville and right to the platform in the heart of Duke Farms, where automobiles were waiting to take them to Duke's country manor at the northern end of the property.

Duke-Biddle wedding invitation, 1915

J.B. Duke spared no expense getting his estate ready for the grand occasion. It was said that he spent two weeks personally overseeing every aspect of the preparations. 

Postcard view of the Duke residence circa 1913

The ceremony, performed by Bishop Darlington, began at 5 p.m. in the Palm Room. This is how it was described by The New York Times:

The ceremony was performed in the palm room, which had a vaulted ceiling and a mezzanine gallery. This room, in the centre of the house, with a wide entrance hall leading to the porte cochere, was transformed into a chapel of flowers. The multi-paned windows, soft lights, and the tones of an organ gave the place the atmosphere of a chapel in the woods, for the boughs of the trees waved in the breeze close to the open windows, and from afar was heard the splash of many fountains.
An aisle was formed with high gilt standards, topped with great masses of peonies of roses, and connected with white satin ribbons. The bridal party, entering from the front entrance, passed up the aisle to a chancel of flowers, while the guests stood grouped close together on either side. [I should think so, I have been in those rooms, and they don't hold 600!] In fact, the capacity of the palm room was over-taxed, and there were guests in the mezzanine gallery. Outside the high windows, looking down from the second-story roof, were assembled many of the servants and employees on the estate.


The Palm Room at the Duke residence in Hillsborough, New Jersey,
from a newspaper story circa 1911 

Newspaper stories were sure to describe the gowns, jewels, and flowers worn and carried by the wedding party and their guests. Suffice it to say that they are exactly what you would expect from a wedding where the gifts to the bride amounted to about $7 million in 2015 dollars, and Mr. Drexel Biddle, Sr. presented Mr. Drexel Biddle, Jr. a check for $200,000 (about $4.5 million today). 

The bridal party at dinner, 27 June 1915 New York Times

After the ceremony, guests adjourned to the lawn to congratulate the newlyweds and partake in refreshments. Special trains for New York and Philadelphia departed at 7:30, but many of the younger guests remained, dancing and partying as the orchestra played into the evening.

Doris Duke, not yet three years old, performed her flower girl duties
 in a white lace frock with a pink sash.

Pure conjecture on my part, but the Biddle-Duke wedding of 1915 may have been something of a test run for the event that was sure to have eclipsed it in every way - the eventual wedding of J.B. Duke's daughter Doris. The heiress who served as flower-girl for her older cousin was not yet three in 1915 and tragically was just twelve when her father died in 1925.

27 June 1915 New York Times

15 June 2015

No More Kings?

Today, June 15, 2015, marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, England. King John agreed that no man, not even the king, was above the law. The ideas about liberty in this document are what separate English-speaking people from the rest of the world, and from where American Exceptionalism is ultimately derived.

The Magna Carta is presented to King John at Runnymede, June 15, 2015
Now that we are almost as removed from the 1620 Mayflower Pilgrims as they were from the English barons who confronted King John, let's remember that unlike the tagline of "No More Kings" - the Schoolhouse Rock song from our Saturday-morning youth - "we're going to elect a president, he's going to do what the people say", the expulsion of the king and the election of a president is not what protects the people from tyranny.

Colonists lived in America for 150 years as Englishmen with the rights, privileges, and liberty - even under the sovereign - as other Englishmen. When new rules were made for them, and they found they did not enjoy the same representation as their forebears across the pond, they reacted to the tyranny, and the revolution was begun.

Two decades later, the Constitution - an improvement on the Magna Carta as it guarantees the liberty of all citizens, not just feudal barons - was adopted. The checks and balances therein were acknowledgements by the founders that all governments, even duly elected ones, could become tyrannical over time.

We see this around the world all the time when despotic rulers tout their "free elections", with no constitution guaranteeing any real freedoms at all!

On this day, we should look to our Constitution's Ninth Amendment, and remember the "other" rights and the Magna Carta:

 "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

13 June 2015

Overlook Way "Summer House", Then and Now

A summer house is a place to enjoy a cool respite on a warm day.  The one at Duke Farms along Overlook Way delivers just that - and even provided refreshment in the form of well water when it first came into use at J.B. Duke's Hillsborough estate over a century ago.

Summer House at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1906

The well-preserved well house is one of many still standing at Duke Farms, although most are located outside the "historic core" of the property.  Stop by and escape the sun next time you are at the Farms.

Summer House on Overlook Way at Duke Farms, April 2015

11 June 2015

Marian Hulse Fenwick, 1930-2015

"I know where all the bodies are buried!" This is the euphemistic - and characteristically New Jersey - answer given to me by former Hillsborough Township mayor Marian Fenwick on more than one occasion when I asked her how she could be both loved and reviled equally by each of the local political parties in a town she once described as the most bitterly partisan in Somerset County. This answer was invariably prefaced by another favorite phrase, "you've got a lot to learn."

Marian Fenwick photographed on a site visit during her final stint on the
 Hillsborough Township Historic Preservation Commission, February 2010

I first met Marian - who passed away Monday, June 8, 2015, after a brief hospital stay just a week short of her 85th birthday - after my very first meeting as a member of the Hillsborough Township Historic Preservation Commission in 2006. Sitting in the audience that evening, she arose immediately after adjournment and came right up to me demanding to know what qualified me to sit on that commission. She was very amused upon hearing my boast that I had been a Hillsborough resident for 13 years.  She was 40 years ahead of me, having moved to Hillsborough as a newlywed from Cranbury in 1953. I think I spent the next nine years trying to convince her of my love for Hillsborough and Hillsborough's history.

Marian Fenwick, seated left, with members and officials 
of the 1971 Hillsborough Twp. Board of Education.
Mrs. Fenwick served on the school board
during the construction of the high school which opened in 1969.

We got to know each other better through our mutual interest in the change of government movement that took place in 2006 and 2007, and in the subsequent Charter Study Commission of which Marian's son, the late George Fenwick, was a member. For most Hillsborough voters, changing the form of government was a novel, if not ultimately well-received, notion. For Marian, who was a resident during the first vote to change government forms back in August 1953 - also defeated - this was old news.

In 1969, Marian Fenwick became the first woman elected to the township committee,
 and was chosen as the first female mayor in January 1972.

In 2007, during my first run for the school board, I was surprised and delighted to arrive at a campaign meeting one evening to find her already there ready to get to work. With Hillsborough's first woman mayor on our side, we were sure to sweep to victory. I soon found out that Marian's term on the township committee, 1970-1972, overlapped with one of her two terms on the school board, making her the only township official to serve concurrently in the posts - a practice that was eventually outlawed.

January 1966

When the polls closed on election night in 2007, and it appeared that I was hanging on to victory by a slim 13 vote margin, Marian encouraged me to be present when the provisional ballots were counted later in the week. I found out later that she had lost her first bid for the school board as a write-in candidate 42 years previously by 39 votes - an outcome that she contested due to "voting irregularities".

3 January 1972 Courier News

One of Marian's proudest moments in her public life was to have been an elected official during Hillsborough's bicentennial celebration in May 1971. For Marian, the preservation of the history of Hillsborough was of the utmost importance - she had no use for longtime residents who couldn't tell you where Clover Hill was located, or on which corner you could have found Woods Tavern. She was a founding member of the Hillsborough Historical Society, and later the Friends of the Van der Veer - Harris House - a non-profit working with Somerset County to restore the notable 18th-century township-owned house on Route 206.

The Van der Veer - Harris house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008

A regular attendee at nearly every Historic Preservation Commission meeting during my first years on that commission, Marian was appointed to a seat in 2009. The next year, I was pleased to work with her on the research for the plaque erected by Larken Associates at the site of the old Woods Tavern (on the Northwest corner of Route 206 and Amwell Road!)

Marian, center, with the designers of the Woods Tavern commemorative plaque,
township officials, and longtime residents, July 2011

In more recent years, as Marian's ability to get around easily began to diminish, we became "phone pals". At some point a few years ago, my kids took to calling her my "other mother" - as in "your other mother called again and left another message". I think she liked that moniker! Like a mom, if I didn't call her back for a few days, she knew something was wrong. And she was always there to answer questions about Hillsborough history for my blog - or just to satisfy my curiosity.

A spiritual person who believed in a hereafter - in some form - there is no doubt that Marian is reading this right now. So just let me say this: Marian, I deeply regret not returning your phone call a couple of weeks ago, and therefore missing the fact that you were hospitalized. And I know what you're thinking: I still have a lot to learn.

07 June 2015

Welcome Readers, Welcome, Welcome!

"Welcome to the new Hillsborough Blog." I wrote those words June 7, 2007.

Eight years, nearly 800 posts, and about a quarter of a million page-views later, I am still welcoming new readers to "Gillette on Hillsborough".

Courier News, June 13, 2007
The Courier News began excerpting blog posts on their editorial page beginning with the one above about "Locks of Love" - my third post.

If you know anyone who would enjoy reading about Hillsborough, Somerset County, or Central New Jersey please invite them to follow the Gillette on Hillsborough Facebook Page by clicking on the link below.

Gillette on Hillsborough Facebook Page

06 June 2015

Below Overlook Way, Then and Now

The next time you hike or bike at Duke Farms, you may want to venture to the far northern end of the "historic core" - essentially the area of the property bounded by the deer fence.  A stroll along Overlook Way - also called Lover's Lane a century ago - affords views across the Riparian Wetland Conservation Area towards the Raritan River. 

The Drive below Overlook Way, postcard view circa 1906

Walking west, turn down the driveway on your right before you reach the Coach Barn and peer through the chain link fence.  Can you picture the scene above from the 1906 postcard? If you can't find it, I have photographed it for you, below.

The Drive below Overlook Way at Duke Farms, April 2015

The watercourse is still there. This was part of the lake system which took water from the lowest lake - Snake Lake, west of the residence - back to the Raritan River.  The stone bridge is still there too, but impossible to see clearly from this view - even in early spring.  I took a photo of the bridge looking down in the opposite direction from Overlook Way, which you can see below.