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Thread: A Great Estate Opens Its Gates - Duke Farms

  1. #1

    Default A Great Estate Opens Its Gates - Duke Farms

    May 15, 2003

    A Great Estate Opens Its Gates

    By ANNE RAVER


    HILLSBOROUGH, N.J.
    On a misty day last week, I toured 700 acres of a vast pastoral landscape here that could have been in England. Deer raised their heads in an emerald-green meadow. Allées of London plane trees led to arched bridges over quiet lakes fed by meandering streams and gushing waterfalls. Fountains and classical statues greeted me at every turn, even in the picturesque ruins of a stone hay barn.

    This pleasure ground, the core of Duke Farms, Doris Duke's 2,700-acre private estate, will open to the public on June 4 for the first time in 75 years. The only part of Duke Farms previously open to the public was Ms. Duke's dizzying international smorgasbord of 11 manicured gardens. Under an acre of glass and called Gardens of Nations, it has since 1964 accepted about 35,000 visitors each year from September through May.

    I was excited, imagining how people could now wander this early 20th-century landscape, created by a number of architects and engineers, including James L. Greenleaf, Ellen Biddle Shipman and Buckenham & Miller. How the public might picnic under the 100-year-old oaks, sketch the nine man-made lakes, spoon on the arching bridges, puzzle over the vine-covered foundation of the mansion that Ms. Duke's father, James Buchanan "Buck" Duke abandoned at the onset of World War I.

    But, in fact, members of the public will not be wandering about unaccompanied. Visitors will board small trolleylike buses for guided tours, which will occur twice a day. "People will be able to get out of the trolley at certain places for a few minutes," said Priscilla Brendler, the program director for Duke Farms, one of three properties run by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, "but they can't go off by themselves."

    "But why not?" I asked, sniffing a purple lilac and admiring a statue of a headless woman in classical drapery. This really is, as a reporter in 1909 called it, the Central Park of New Jersey. Like Frederick Law Olmsted, who moved boulders and earth to create a piece of the Adirondacks in Central Park, Buck Duke replicated the rolling Piedmont in sandy New Jersey. "Buck had all these boulders brought in," Ms. Brendler said, explaining that he dug lakes in the flat farm fields and used the scooped-out earth to build hills. The project cost him millions of dollars.

    "Buck wanted it open, where people could walk and picnic," Ms. Brendler said. He hired a constable to maintain decorum. But people drove their cars over the lawns and vandalized the statues.

    The final straw was a large touring party of 180 cars. According to a 1915 newspaper account, they left their empty lunch boxes and bottles behind, and picked flowers despite signs prohibiting it. Later, Ms. Duke occasionally opened the grounds for activities like sunrise services.

    Ms. Brendler chauffeured me along one of the manicured drives that wind for 30 miles through the estate. We passed the foundation of Mr. Duke's great unbuilt house. "It was supposed to be a French chateau," Ms. Brendler said, "but Buck donated the steel to the war effort."

    She pointed out the Mermaid Pool, near the foundation, where Ms. Duke liked to swim. She was Buck Duke's only child, born to his second wife, Nanaline. He died in 1925, when his daughter was 12.

    "Doris adored her father," Ms. Brendler said. She stopped the van and let me out so I could stare over a balustrade, obviously built with a grand house in mind. It overlooks a terraced greensward that slopes toward a distant woods.

    "We call that the Great Lawn," Ms. Brendler said, estimating it to be a quarter-mile long. The rippled effect reminded me of Middleton Place, an old plantation outside Charleston.

    Ms. Duke attended various boarding schools and she spoke nine languages. In 1932 she married a sportsman, James H. R. Cromwell, and the two went on a world tour. The sights she saw influenced the gardens she built at Duke Farms, at her house in Honolulu (where she swam in a 65-foot-long saltwater pool) and at her house in Newport (where she swam off the rocks in the ocean).

    "Miss Duke was very personally involved, very hands-on," said Patrick Lerch, the foundation's director of properties. "She would say, `No, that's not right,' and hand the men a sketch or photo."

    Ms. Duke was married to Mr. Cromwell for eight years. Her second marriage, to the infamous playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, "a diplomat from the Dominican Republic," as Mr. Lerch phrased it, lasted only a year.

    I stared longingly in the direction of the old farmhouse, where the family lived.

    "Doris built the Hollywood wing in 1935 for her and Jimmy," Ms. Brendler said, referring to Mr. Cromwell. "It was Art Deco, with a theater and a bar, a bowling alley and an indoor pool and enclosed clay tennis court."

    Could I see it?

    "Oh no, that's not allowed," Ms. Brendler said. The house is now used for the storage of files and papers; an archivist works in the basement. The current generation of gawkers will be allowed onto the premises by appointment, just 30 at a time. Mr. Lerch called this an "initial program," hinting at greater access to come.

    "We want to make it available, so the general public can enjoy its resources," he said, "but we need to preserve and protect the habitat."

    Duke Farms does not now have enough rest rooms or parking for large numbers of people. "We have no signage or trails, no park rangers," he said.

    I wondered why some of the $1.2 billion in the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which supports, among other things, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and National Public Radio, couldn't be tapped for the kind of amenities that would really make this a public park. But that is a long way off, Mr. Lerch said, if ever.

    "The bottom line is, this is not Central Park, which has public roads and sidewalks going through it," he said. So as it stands now, visitors will get only a tantalizing glimpse, from a trolley, of how the fabulously wealthy roughed it in the country.

    Buck Duke, born in 1856, was the son of a tobacco farmer and cigarette manufacturer. He boosted the family fortune by pioneering the use of the cigarette rolling machine, and founded the American Tobacco Company in 1890. Eight years later, the company was producing 3.7 billion cigarettes annually. "That was half the cigarettes produced in the country," Ms. Brendler said.

    The Supreme Court found the company to be a monopoly and dissolved it in 1911, and Mr. Duke turned his attention to hydroelectric power. By 1925 Duke Power was supplying electricity to more than 300 cotton mills, as well as towns throughout the Piedmont region of the Carolinas. After he made a donation to Trinity College in Durham, N.C., it was renamed Duke University.

    Mr. Duke began buying land along the Raritan River in New Jersey for what would become Duke Farms in 1893.

    "Buck lived here as a country farmer," Ms. Brendler said. "Other wealthy families were going out to Newport and Long Island, but he wanted to play with his farm and his hydroelectric plant on the Raritan River."

    His plant powered the estate and outlying areas. His fascination with waterworks explains the property's many streams, waterfalls and lakes.

    Ms. Duke died in 1993 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Her obituary in The New York Times appeared under the headline "Doris Duke, 80, Heiress Whose Great Wealth Couldn't Buy Happiness, Is Dead."

    Mr. Lerch said that her will specifies that Duke Farms be devoted to environmental protection and education. Rutgers University is studying the elm trees, as well as native plants and invasive species. And wildlife is finding a haven here.

    "We have a pair of nesting golden eagles, 15 coyotes and a great horned owl," Ms. Brendler said. Visitors may also get a glimpse of Princess, a 15-year-old camel. "Doris bought a Boeing 737 from a gentleman in the Middle East," Ms. Brendler said. Two Bactrian camels — "the double-humped model," Mr. Lerch joked — were part of the deal.

    Leaving Duke Farms, I could only hope that the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation would hurry to get the restrooms and the rangers ready. The public is hungry for open space, and even hungrier for places that have been stamped, as Duke Farms has, by wealth, drama, taste and time.


    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company


  2. #2

    Default A Great Estate Opens Its Gates

    A place I've been meaning to go for a long time. *Maybe this summer I'll finally get around to it. *I saw the craziest-looking wild turkey whilst driving past the estate one time (just thought I'd share that with you all). *Bizarre creature.

  3. #3

    Default A Great Estate Opens Its Gates

    That reminds me, I saw a wild turkey in Hudson River Park (just north of Perry St condos) about a month ago. I couldn't believe it.

  4. #4
    Moderator NYatKNIGHT's Avatar
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    Default A Great Estate Opens Its Gates

    Really! How on earth did it get there? There are a lot of them all over the palisades in NJ, but they look too fat (and dumb) to fly.

    I didn't know they were the Dukes of Duke University - pretty nifty. The estate sounds awesome.

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