The Trials of Doris: Bonus Edition!

Internationally, people have begun to turn their heads in the direction of Somerville, New Jersey in response to the outcry for Duke’s Country Manor. JB and Doris were two lifetimes full of selfless acts of kindness and they managed to carry out a variety of interests to everyone around them, especially while engaging with their community at home. But at the time of Doris’s death in 1993, things slowly deviated from her intended visions back home. This week I received an enormous amount of information hat left me hungrily curious and concerned for the property and family we all came to love.

So according to these developments, “There have been substantial changes to the Farm’s mission statement… that made it what it is today.” Naturally, I asked my colleagues what the mission statements were from years past. The letter, although vague, gave me some insight to where I could look to understand what changed so drastically that the Garden of Nations and Manor sit in a sullen, emptied state. I was answered that the mission statement today is “Duke Farms serves as a model of environmental stewardship and inspires visitors to become informed stewards of the land. It is a place of education, enjoyment and research that enhances the environmental health of the region” (dukefarms.org). We are still searching for the older missions to compare, but we have confirmation that it has been modified.

The probated will and final testament of Doris Duke, which was kindly generated from the DORIS group, is helping me see things as clearly as possible with regard to their intentions. One intellect explained that “I think [the mansion] was intentionally left alone because trustees and people in charge didn’t want to take on the project”. If this is true, then I’m proud to report that we may have a better shot with working together today than in yesteryears. The will explains in section 2A2 that indeed, the farm is to be used “solely for agricultural and horticultural purposes”, however what is often not discussed is that this was the expectation for “a certain portion” of the property, “known as the farmland and growing areas” (Will, page 2). The other portion was 2A1, which explained the expectations for another certain portion called the “parks area”. Perhaps there isn’t a distinction between the two anymore? I’m not sure. What I do know is that the parks area was intended to “protect endangered species of all kinds, both flora and fauna”. The orchid range and Garden of Nations conformed to this.

The great message here? If the endangered habitats from the gardens are gone, the one thing endangered left to protect is her home, the Country Manor.

Another intellect also talked about the fame of the landscape architects who worked on Doris’s various landscapes. He quotes, “They were prodigal, and no one matched their skill, Ellen Shipman and her apprentice…. It was two women who worked under the firm of Frederick Law Olmstead, the father of American landscape architecture.. I want to see someone recreate their designs since they were renowned in their art. Maybe that’s a way to get the history people and environment people to see eye to eye”. This last thought of this intellect gave me lots of hope. While there has been discussion about cost-efficiency being valued over the adherence to the vision of Duke’s, there are many ways to find middle ground to satisfy all parties. My mom always says ‘triumph’ can only be achieved when you try with a great big ‘umph’. it may be more work, but the effort is what I perceive as being most valued here. If the Foundation and DORIS/DCC groups band their resources together and create a new master plan, or even just incorporate mission statements together, their results could make a significant impact on the last “remaining intact estate” of our country’s industrial barons. I look forward to engaging on the collaborative progress, but in the meantime, I ask my readers not to send me any further statements critiquing the work of my collaboratives. This article was solely intended to inform. I respect all opinions, but I will not be persuaded into any offensive perspectives. Thank you for your cooperation and get ready for the 5th installment of the Trials of Doris coming on the 21st! We hope that everyone in the area is able to join us at the Mermaid pool on the 20th!

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