06 April 2021

The Raritan Gate Fountain, Then and Now

While many features of Duke's Park - the early 20th century Hillsborough, New Jersey estate of tobacco magnate James B. Duke - are still present and available to be discovered by visitors almost a century after Duke's death in 1925, there are a few that are gone forever.

Postcard circa 1906
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

The most spectacular of these was the Raritan Gate Fountain. Remarkable equally for its majesty and for the fact that Duke located the fountain not on his property but at the intersection of a public thoroughfare, the magnificent structure was removed by Duke's heir Doris in the 1930s.

Postcard circa 1905
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

During Duke's lifetime and beyond until 1931, River Road continued past the turn for the Nevius Street Bridge and ran right past the estate residence all the way to today's Route 206. It was after Doris Duke reached an agreement with Somerset County to close the ancient road in 1931 that she removed the fountain which stood at the intersection of the road to Raritan.

1931 aerial view of part of the Duke estate,
showing the location of the fountain and River Road.

The fountain was purchased along with many other bronze sculptures during Duke's trip to Europe in 1902. Here is how Town & Country magazine described the fountain in 1903:

"One of the most conspicuous features of the grounds is the fountain, which stands at the head of the public avenue, lined with trees, leading to the estate. From the center of the basin of white sandstone rising to the height of twenty feet is a massive Romanesque porch of white sandstone, supported by pillars of elaborately carved, protecting and framing two female figures of heroic proportions and on either end of the basin are graceful Bacchantes that balance the central design."  

This postcard view looks east towards the entrance to Duke's Park.
There is a gate there today.
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Below, please enjoy some postcard views from my collection - and try to imagine what this looked like the next time you cross the Raritan River coming back into Hillsborough.

From inside the Duke Estate looking west towards the fountain - 
before gates were installed.
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Looking northwest towards Raritan.
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)




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