Status: Lost Forever
Drive along Route 206 at the northern end of Hillsborough and you will see well into the distance carefully constructed stone walls. These low walls and stone castle turrets mark the boundaries and entrance to what once was the 2,740 acre Duke estate in Hillsborough. In the late-nineteenth century, James Buchanan Duke, a tobacco and energy magnate and benefactor of Duke University, began amassing the estate which was later cared for by his sole heir and daughter, Doris Duke. The mansion which began as a nineteenth-century farmhouse was transformed into a rambling estate home with additions made by father and daughter. This historic mansion is now gone.
The story is all too familiar in New Jersey – another irreplaceable historic building reduced to rubble. This time there are countless ironies, but particularly ironic is that the mansion that James B. Duke and his daughter, Doris, spent more than a century building was destroyed by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.
That means her own money was used to destroy the one place, more than any other that she called home. The expansive three-story mansion was 600-feet long and 67,000 square feet. In the 1930s Doris Duke was immensely wealthy even in the depths of the Depression Era. It was during that era that she added to the mansion the “Hollywood wing,” which included a swimming pool, shooting gallery, theater, casino, and bowling alley. The mansion was an integral part of the estate and the gigantic, ornate glass conservatory a feature of the horticultural interests of Doris Duke and of her father.
According to William Bolger of the National Park Service, “the fact that it is the “big house” on one of the greatest landscaped estates of its time is significant. He further notes that the 1987 nomination to place the estate on the National Register of Historic Places that was prepared during Miss Duke’s life clearly describes a remarkable history of landscape design. It is commonly understood that the main residence on a farm or estate is a key feature of that resource and, unless it has lost physical integrity, is a contributing element of the property as defined by the National Register. There was no case made that claimed substantial loss of physical integrity. Regardless of what one thinks of the house as a work of architecture, it is standing as a component that contributes to the overall integrity of the historic district that it is a part of is beyond dispute, and its demolition will certainly represent a loss of one of the historic district’s most distinctive, and perhaps most important, features.”
Perhaps the final irony for historic preservationists is that the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Duke Farms Foundation received a 2015 New Jersey Historic Preservation Awards last May for their “exciting vision and plan for the transformation of Duke Farms, providing the public with environmental stewardship programs, and increased access to the property’s unique cultural landscapes. The first step towards implementing this vision is the adaptive reuse of a monumental farm building – the Farm Barn – as an orientation center and Foundation offices. The renovation will allow for important areas of existing stonework to be exposed in the public areas of the first floor. Additionally, green design and ecological stewardship are priorities. This is reflected in energy efficient lighting and solar tubes aiding in energy reduction, roof rainwater collected in cisterns and used for flushing toilets, and bioswales and rain gardens aiding in the removal of suspended solids from motor vehicle runoff to improve groundwater recharge and reduce discharge in Duke’s Brook. The second step is the renovation and renewal of the grand, 1899 Lord & Burnham conservatory – the Orchid Range – that houses indoor orchid display gardens, and a native plant center. Both of these projects have likewise received LEED-platinum certification.”
Only three months after receiving the award, the Doris Duke Charitable Trust and the Duke Farms Foundation in July 2015 requested the Hillsborough Township Preservation Commission grant them permission to raze the Duke mansion. The decision by the Commission to allow the demolition of the house was probably inevitable. By 2015, the Doris Duke Charitable Trust had so neglected the residence over the more than 20 years since Duke’s death that they claimed that restoration costs would be better spent on other projects on the Duke Farms. Unfortunately, because of this, an irreplaceable and fundamental piece of this great estate is gone forever.
Preservation New Jersey