31 March 2020

Eugene O'Neill and George Bellows: Winter in Zion (1909)

Perhaps it was during the farewell tour through New Jersey of "Monte Cristo" - the play to which his name had become inseparable - that actor James O'Neill first heard about the property for sale in Hillsborough. It was the summer of 1906 and the charming leading man had already portrayed the Count in upwards of 6,000 performances dating back to 1875.

George Bellows - Winter in Zion (1909)

Looking for a summer getaway spot, O'Neill borrowed money from his theater friends to purchase the old mill property on the Rock Brook at Zion - formerly known as Rock Mills. The mill - in ruins by 1906 - was one of several along the swift-moving stream that dated back to the 1700s. The property also included the miller's house - a large ancient cabin with a long covered porch.

8 August 1906 Asbury Park Press

With his youngest son Eugene ready to start school just down the road at Princeton in the fall, the "farm" at Zion seemed like a perfect complement to the O'Neills' other summer home in New London, Connecticut.

George Bellows - Clouds and Hills (1909)

As it turned out, Eugene didn't make it through the year at Princeton and never visited Hillsborough that year. It wasn't until the winter of 1909 that he first set eyes on the cabin at Zion.

1873 map showing the location of the O'Neill property

Family friend Sadie Koenig described the Eugene O'Neill of this period as "a kind of bum." Unable to hold a job for any length of time and always getting into fights - he later bragged to the Zion postmaster that he was thrown out of every hotel bar in Trenton - his father, in an attempt to rein in his behavior, reduced Eugene's allowance to just $1 a day.

George Bellows - Haystacks and Barn (1909)

On January 18, 1909, O'Neill, joined by his friends and rising artists George Bellows and Ed Keefe, arrived at the cabin. What they saw was somewhat disheartening, to say the least - an unheated, unelectrified, unkempt house. They would be camping out for the next four weeks.

The O'Neill house at Zion

The elder Bellows, understanding what a winter month at the farm would really be like, sent the boys a box of cigars and several bottles of whiskey.

1873 map of Rock Mills/Zion indicating the location of the O'Neill property.

While Bellows and Keefe painted, O'Neill tried his hand at poetry. Years before the now-famous playwright penned "Anna Christie (1922)" and "Desire Under the Elms (1924)"  he told the postmaster, "Oh., I try a little writing - but I wouldn't tell anybody." He managed a few sonnets in the course of the month.

George Bellows - Jersey Hills (1909)

George Bellows and Ed Keefe were a little further along in their careers. Members of New York's "Ashcan School", their work had already been exhibited to growing acclaim - notwithstanding the fact that Keefe would give up painting the next year.

The porch at the O'Neill house

Before he became famous for his vivid and visceral depictions of prizefighters, Bellows was painting New York street scenes. In that vein, he took his easel and paints up and down the Sourland Mountian that winter and was often to be seen with a local resident peering over his shoulder providing criticism. Bellows was always happy to point out things that he was seeing in the farm buildings, stone fences, and fallen trees that were lost to people who had grown too accustomed to their surroundings.

George Bellows - The Brook (1909)
George Bellows complete eleven paintings in four weeks. According to locals, his favorite subject was Rock Brook.

Eugene O'Neill and George Bellows

On February 12, 1909, the trio returned to New York. James O'Neill kept the cabin for many years afterward, visiting at least once a year to pay his taxes and look in on the place. He eventually sold the property to someone who rented it out to summer vacationers from the city.

25 March 2020

The Fountain Terraces at Duke's Park (1912 - circa 1935)

The last great flurry of construction at the Hillsborough Township estate of tobacco tycoon James B. Duke took place between 1912 and 1915 and was to have concluded with the long-planned mansion on the hill. Already in the works for almost ten years by 1912, the project ultimately never got past the foundation and steel framework and was eventually abandoned.

The "Fountain Terraces" at Duke's Park, circa 1915.
The women in the image should give some perspective on the size.

Concurrently, Duke was working on another section of the estate which started to be laid out around 1912 and was finished by 1914. We might call this "The Fountain Terraces" as it was so described in a number of contemporary postcards.

The Fountain Terraces on the 1932 Map of Duke's Park
The completed formal garden of fountains, waterfalls, trees, flowers, and domed "garden temples" was featured prominently in the October 1914 edition of "American Homes and Gardens".

October 1914 American Homes and Gardens
We can see where the Fountain Terraces was located by overlaying the 1931 aerial view of Duke's Park onto a Duke Farms visitor map.

1931 aerial overlayed on Duke Farms visitor map

Perhaps the best view of the Fountain Terraces comes from a 1931 aerial news photo in my personal collection. In this photo, Turtle Lake is at the bottom and we are facing east. 

1931 aerial
In the next version, I have added a key for viewing the scans of the postcards from my personal collection which appear below.

1931 aerial with finding key

Here are seven postcards from the 1915 to 1920 time period - A through G.








I hope the postcards give some idea of the beauty and especially the work that went into creating this special place. But don't take my word for it. Here's a video of a ten-year-old Doris Duke circa 1922 riding her cart through the Fountain Terraces (relevant video begins at 1:07):

So, what happened to the Fountain Terraces? This blurb printed in the August 20, 1938, edition of The Courier News gives us a clue...

20 August 1938 Courier News
...and these photos from the Doris Duke Photograph Collection at Duke University seals the deal.

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

After her marriage to James Cromwell in 1935, priorities at the old Duke's Park began to change. These changes included the destruction of the Fountain Terraces, and also the destruction of the massive fountain complex across from the Great Falls. And culminated in the construction of a Robert Trent Jones designed golf course which lay waste to the estate in 1939.

There is no trace of the beautiful Fountain Terraces at Duke Farms today.

22 March 2020

Touring Duke's Park (1905 - 1915)

In 1893, when the tobacco magnate James B. Duke bought the first farms that would make up his Hillsborough Township, NJ estate, he didn't immediately think of building a public, or even a semi-public, park. His interests were in racehorses, prize-winning bulls, and farming. Nevertheless, because two major public thoroughfares - the River Road from South Branch to Harmony Plains (Manville) and Woodville Road (Duke's Parkway West) - ran through the estate area residents already had tantalizing glimpses of the grounds.

Heading east on Woodville Road (Duke's Parkway West) circa 1906.

It wasn't until 1902 that Duke began laying out the park in earnest, including importing a fortune in bronze and marble statuary from Europe, building dozens of magnificent fountains, paving miles of roads, and planting hundreds of thousands of trees and shrubs. Even after a freak storm uprooted trees and destroyed the electric light system in 1903, Duke was not deterred. He began work again - including excavating the first of the many artificial lakes.

26 March 1905, New York Times
Duke's Park, as it came to be called, became a tourist attraction that year - but didn't really become a hit until people started arriving in automobiles around 1905. Apparently, the size of the park was too great to enjoy by carriage. It wasn't long before enterprising entrepreneurs began to offer automobile tours through the park. Five and seven-passenger luxury touring cars could be seen navigating the macadamized roads on most fair days.

1908 ads from the New Brunswick Home News
The hordes of visitors - some from out of state - soon brought destruction and vandalism to Duke's showplace. He toyed with closing access, but as there were no gates at that time, that was problematic.

1 October 1906, New Brunswick Home News
Reporters toured the grounds many times between 1905 and 1915. Here are some excerpts from a Home News reporter's visit on September 30, 1906, illustrated with photos and postcards from the collection of this writer:

Auto Tour of Duke's Park circa 1907

"A $200,000 Italian fountain of stone and marble stands at the entrance, the central stream rising from a mammoth shell and smaller streams being sent gushing from the mouths of huge frogs of green bronze grouped about the central figure. At night the fountain is lighted with artistic electric lights. There are numerous other fountains about the estate, not as elaborate, but beautiful to behold."

Visitors at the Frog Fountain, Duke's Park

"A short walk brings the visitor to the carriage house, a handsome stone structure, with tower and clock, illuminated at night, tolling off the hours. The stables are models of luxury. They are adorned with rich rugs, with handsome oil paintings on the walls, and equipped with every kind of vehicle. Several of the mural decorations are 8 by 26 feet. Four of them represent the four continents."

The Carriage House and Stables at Duke's Park circa 1904
"A new part of the estate is now in the hands of the landscape artists, who are laying out roads and having them macadamized, building hills and cutting valleys, giving the land a rolling appearance, digging lakes, in short, transforming an ordinary stretch of farm into a beautiful park."

Lake construction at Duke's Park circa 1907

We can now jump ahead to June 1912 and follow another Home News reporter as he concludes his tour of Somerville and Raritan with a visit to Duke's Park.

8 June 1912 Home News

"We rode into Duke's Park by way of the Raritan entrance, that brought us to about the middle of the estate, which, by the way, occupies five square miles."

Arriving at Duke's Park from Raritan, the Nevius Street Bridge is in the distance.

The fountain with magnificent bronze statuary at the Raritan entrance to Duke's Park.
It was located was where today the road bends away to the west towards South Branch.

"The first glimpse we had of the park told us just what means of viewing it was properly due to its magnificence - a pair of prancing, pure-blooded horses, with tossing manes, a coachman and footman in livery, a large and rich carriage, upholstered and be-cushioned, might pass well, but the proper means is just what we had  - a luxurious automobile, massive and dignified."

Arriving at the East Gate
"No word-picture can describe this five square miles. It is one vast masterpiece of engineering, landscape gardening and building. It is wonderful."

The Hook and Eye Curve
At least two of our party had travelled [sic] in Europe as well as half over America, but those two admitted that they had bever seen a park to compare with it. [N]owhere that our party knew of is there the variety, the unexpected beauty breaking in at every turn - the hills with their wide-stretching views...

...the cool and sparkling fountains...

...the softness of the long reaches; the wealth of shrub and flower - that Duke's Park possesses. It is a revelation."

Relaxing by Duke's Brook
"We rode along avenues of overhanging maples, with their delicate green boughs...

...we passed through forests of rhododendrons...

...we skirted the fringe of thousands of beautiful Colorado blue spruce...

...we halted beside the artificial lakes, each with its great fountain throwing up volumes of spray which fell from dolphins held in the arms of mermaids or shot upwards from the basins of rock."

"At one of these fountains we stopped and walked up the pass to come to its edge. Here the spray sprinkled us and cooled us.

The Vista Lake Fountains circa 1915

As we looked into the lake beneath we saw the rainbow in all its lovely colors and tints. We looked to the sky but saw no rainbow there; the waters had caught the coloring and stamped them on its bosom."

The grotto below the Vista Lake Fountains
"We stopped again before the wide expanse of lawn, smooth as any carpet, and saw the great mansion, commenced for the new home of the proprietor, a wonderful home for any man, with its tunnels of concrete issuing into the wooded be-flowered park."

"It is good of the proprietor to permit the people to drive through and thus to give them a sight that they can never forget."

Unfortunately, not all guests were as appreciative as the Home News reporter. 

19 December 1914

In July 1915, three hundred farmers from Pennsylvania  - in 100 automobiles - descended on Duke's Park and did considerable damage to the grounds. Duke, who had been opening the park only Tuesdays and Fridays since earlier in the decade now decided to only open one day per month - a day that would be announced without much notice.

31 July 1915 Home News

Today [2020], although Duke Farms isn't the spectacular showplace it was a century ago, we are fortunate to be able to walk the grounds, take in the natural beauty, and imagine the scenes described above.