Recently the team at RRBlog had the luxury of a calm weekend afternoon to ourselves. In an ever-busy world, its a beautiful commodity to get to slow down and enjoy the scenery at a place like Duke’s Estate. Of course, even on the loveliest of days with the most charming picnic box lunches, it is impossible to shut our eyes to progress or demise of any sort. You see, we’ve got a rich history on the land of historic riches.
So what exactly caught our eyes this time around? Admittedly, it’s been a while since we’ve had this opportunity for a self-guided tour. We didn’t cover everything, but it was enough to shake a stick at. First thing we noticed as we got into the park was a small cart carrying individuals to the Orchid Range who otherwise would struggle with that distance. In the absence of a tram, this was a relief to see. Next, we made our way to the orchid range, where we met a frog in the doorway. Most impressively, there were decorations for the harvest season flanking both sets of doors and a boisterously successful growing arch. We didn’t have time to tour the entire facility again, but the explicit use of space and attention to detail was a welcome contrast to years prior.
Next up was the Old Foundation after a nice cardio walk uphill. That remains essentially unchanged, except for the excess of trees and other debris blatantly left to overgrow the structure. Surely the roots alone are causing irreparable damages to the shapes of concrete rooms below. I also remember years ago that visitors would have no problem seeing the fireplace on the northernmost wall of the foundation, or the two stories beneath the ground. Now, it’s nowhere near the same caliber of visibility.
Ahead, we veered off the path to wander west across the bridge at the Great Falls. The very same balustrade post from years ago still stands cracked and badly in need of repairs, but we remain hopeful. We had to pause for lunch by the Great Oak Tree. It was just getting sunnier out and we had the distinct pleasure of befriending yet another, much larger frog in our trek back to the Coach Barn. This is where the real amazement started to settle in. Just as the two of us emerged to greet the Bull Durham statue, my eyes instantly darted to the gates to the mansion’s footprint. Gone were the sprays of ivy, cracks, and unblended patch-up jobs of the last year. Restored, clean, and painted a clean coat of ivory, the gates that once welcomed Doris Duke home and all her guests to their destination stood tall and proud. Naturally, we were inclined to take a closer look, because this was a splendid step in the right direction. And we were blown away with the steps toward a true vision that awaited us.
Yep. You heard right. Things within the realm of historic integrity are actually looking up. We aren’t about to overlook the catastrophic losses of the Duke Mansion (2016) or the Garden of Nations (2008), but we are here to serve as a source of encouragement and support for future endeavors to improve on what is left.
The mortar of walls along the borders of the Coach Barn and pillars that lead to the new pedestrian-accessible Coach Barn Gate, which offers a unique new trail for visitors to use. This was once a turn-of-the-century motorway for the Dukes and their company to drive along the banks of the Raritan and now gives an expansive look of wetlands and views of the same lovely river. As if this wasn’t enough of a re-ignition of hope and positivity, we decided to venture into the ‘arboretum’, which actually held up its name with some hints still lingering of a summer’s blooms.
The meditation garden was remade so effectively that we at the RRBlog want to give our compliments to the landscape team for this area. The tea house, babbling brooks, paths, and diverse array of non-native plant species all support the magnificent display. Icing on the cake? We got it. Despite the dramatic absence of a one-of-a-kind mansion, there is maintenance of the landscape of its footprint and the flanking palm room fountains.
Feel like another round? From the sound of Twitter, the Education Cottage is the revival of the Visitor’s Lodge that leads guests to the grassy esplanade of the greenhouses. We revel in what comes next in this pattern in pursuit of preservation. Until next time, we carry on the inspirations through Operation Orchid.