Posted in Operation ORCHID

Operation Orchid: Crossing Paths (NOT)

Check this out! Click Here: Duke Farms Greenway Opens

This was a cited reason for why the infamous Duke Mansion just had to be demolished. Sounds pretty legit, right? If the house isn’t in the way (which sadly, it’s gone now), the Duke Farms administration can make a lovely trail that connects Raritan’s stunning Nevius Street Bridge to the trails at Duke Farms for continuity and improved pedestrian flow. They did just that, and the trail is very easy to navigate. In addition, trails flanking the northern border of the estate (the wetlands) have been opened to foot traffic since the demolition.

There’s a tragic flaw in that logic, however. The greenway path does not intersect with the mansion’s footprint. In fact, the two aren’t anywhere near each other in the 52 acres of ‘Arboretum’ that demo’ing the mansion opened up.

Don’t believe the ‘opposition’? Let’s see what the actual distances look like in the spring when we are thawed out.

On the subject of pathways, there was a lovely gate whose pillars were restored by the remarkable team of historic architects at DKA (omitted for privacy unless otherwise stated), at the southern side of Dukes Parkway West. Now that gate is replaced with sad-looking wooden posts and a thick rope. Something tells me that wasn’t too original, tasteful, or publicly recognized for changing. Where’d it go? We would love to know.


Stay dangerously curious, darlings~

Posted in Operation ORCHID, The Publications

Operation Orchid: Credit & Condolences

We at RRBlog and our incredible allies in Operation ORCHID want to take a moment to express that we aren’t a hostile group. In the past, we have been called names such as muckrakers, the opposition, instigators, aggressors, and even ‘precocious, misappropriated broads’. That last one is Harpie’s favorite. Despite the curious rumors and false accusations, we are always prepared to give credit where it is due, even if we don’t like the view of a person or group receiving credit.

Today actually yielded a pleasant surprise. After a two-mile stretch on bicycles, we decided to take an overdue wander on the northern end of the Duke’s Estate property which is known best as the site where the mansion stood. The ‘arboretum’ is its formal name, although for some reason the foundation never held any official opening to the area. Its as if they didn’t have an overwhelming sense of pride- rather they carried a guilt or shame associated with the demolition and subsequent display of the now-emptied landscape. It was always evident something was missing… until another someone was lost.

The final manager of logistics at Duke’s Estate was known affectionately as Cupie. Her role in the Duke Legacy can’t be understated. Since her arrival to America as an immigrant, Doris and she had a bond. Cupie was originally hired as a head-of-residence and maintained Miss Duke’s affairs. Her entire family was known to have involvement in the caretaking of the estate and its many facets, but Cupie was priceless. For many years, Cupie’s family lived in-residence on the former Duke Mansion before it was destroyed. Her contributions as a professional liaison to Miss Duke are catalogued as part of the Oral Histories Project at Duke University and it appears as though her work was acknowledged by the foundation as well. In honor of her passing, we discovered a beautiful plaque and memorial overlooking Heron Lake in what would be the backyard of Miss Duke’s home.

Duke Farms, Operation Orchid and RRBlog respectfully say thank you, sincerely, for taking a moment to honor and recognize the value of Miss Duke’s hand-selected staff. We feel that the memorial is well-deserved and a step in the right direction to fully represent the Duke way of being. Our condolences are with Cupie’s family. You have more friends and support than you know.

In addition to this profound statement, it appears as though the good will and TLC didn’t stop there. (Author’s note: bikeriding makes the entire estate far more accessible. We heartily recommend- safely- trekking up the Old Foundation hill just for the sake of zooming down the steeper side by the Kiva doors.) Pausing for tea breaks is essential; and we stopped on the south-facing clearing by the foundation that faces Vista Lake. It warmed my heart to be able to see straight across Vista Lake, which was clean of algae (mostly) without the overgrowth permeating the view.

It’s not a perfect situation by far, and nothing excuses the atrocities committed by the DDCF and DFF against the historical integrity of the state of New Jersey and Somerset County, however….

We are thankful that it appears that… in small steps…. the values of family, community, and meaningful, multi-track legacy are creeping back into the protocol fabric of Duke’s Estate.

We are eager to see how everyone is able to identify, develop, and act on new ideas that truly reflect Miss Duke’s methods from home.

Cheers, Darlings.

Posted in Operation ORCHID

ORCHID Goes on Tour!

It has been a turbulent few months of silence at RRBlog, but we thank you for your patience throughout. In the last two weeks, The Duchess of South Somerville received a well-deserved makeover with a tag-team of volunteer editors and was re-released on May 5th, just this last weekend.

We are elated to announce that an entire box of merchandise was sold, connections were made to valuable other groups like Preservation NJ, NJ Historic Trust, and of course, we look forward to the final decisions for a future panel discussion at The 2019 NJ History Conference at Douglass College.

What a hoot it has been, darlings. So far, we have been graciously hosted by Morris Museum, The Van Veghten House, and Mendham Boro’s Hstorical Society.

Stay involved, use your voice, and speak up on behalf of your local history!


Posted in Operation ORCHID

On the Passing of Marion ‘Oatsie’ Charles

Anyone who knows much about Newport, Rhode Island society knows the name Marion Oatsie Charles. Raised in Southern wealth and poised in the art of vivacious advocacy, Oatsie was a close colleague and friend of our late neighbor, Doris Duke. The notification of her passing reached us as it was published, and we at ORCHID wanted to spread thoughts and prayers as well as solidarity to a woman known in her legacy for historic preservation- a legacy that far surpassed her Newport social life.

It will prove to be an exceptional inspiration to visitors of the Newport Restoration Society to have the name Marion Oatsie Charles immortalized in their work. Of course, as Rough Point is one of three locations designated under the umbrella of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, we at the RRBlog find it increasingly interesting to see how the DDCF will honor such a powerful ally’s legacy in their own ways.

Our hearts go out to Oatsie’s family and friends, as well as the entirety of Newport for this profound loss, especially so close to the holidays.

Additionally, we look forward to seeing how the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation operates under its new status as a nonprofit in the year 2019. We expect nothing short of honorably walking in the footsteps of the Dukes and their amazing allies like the magnificent and poised Marion Oatsie Charles.

Posted in Operation ORCHID

Op. Orchid: Where There’s Hope…


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.


Posted in Operation ORCHID

Operation Orchid: A Tale of Two Townships

Irony is a manifestation of fate tangled within itself. Are things always coincidental, or is everything fueled by an antecedent and the prospect of a consequence? It’s a psychologically rooted question; one that we find ourselves stuck with often these days when observing the stark contrast of behaviors between historic preservation in the locality of the Duke Estate and its counterparts. Okay, let’s cut the abstract and get nitty gritty.

So on July 16th, all the information has to be submitted to Somerset County by the public regarding the preservation of historic parcels and eras of interest. This gives the members of this county FOUR DAYS from now to have this info submitted.

What’s ironic here is that there is a specific category for the emerging of ‘Great Estates’ like Dukes and Natirar, (1880-1911) which seeks general input. This county was the same one that, in preventative measures in 2015, turned a blind eye to the desperation of the DORIS group in trying to preserve the integrity of the Duke Estate through saving the mansion. In addition, this is the same county whose court rejected the measures taken to appeal the demolition permit granted by Hillsborough Township. But I mean hey, the judge that presided the case is a sibling of someone who works directly for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation so obviously dialogues off the record played a huge role in getting us to this point right?

Now that the estate is missing the house that literally defines the title ‘estate’ at Duke Farms, it seems like Somerset County is either getting wise or getting profoundly remorseful. But hindsight is always 20/20. You can’t bring back what you destroyed. This is how we whitewash history and skew the stories of the past. The timeline is perpetually damaged unless some serious preservation efforts and commemorative methods are prepared ASAP.


Mount Laurel is getting it together!

Unlike the case of the Duke Mansion, Mount Laurel identifies with the same costly concerns, but collected the support of PNJ (Preservation New Jersey) who was able to acquire a temporary halt to the demolition in advance of it beginning- with the stipulation that the township would review and submit a plan for the space. The clock is ticking, no doubt, but the fight is always on against these staples of American culture- which if no one noticed- is lacking serious emphasis. The gentrification between technology and culture is staggering, one that deserves the attention first through using what you’ve already got- including old houses that requiresome degree of remediation.

Ah, life’s little ironies indeed. The story continues for ORCHID and the real legacy of Doris Duke. Get it together, New Jersey!

Do you have input? SEND IT IN:

Posted in Operation ORCHID, The Trials of Doris

Op Orchid: Reflections on Doris

Apparently three years later we still must be reminded that the actions of the Hillsborough Township Historic Preservation Commission were ‘justified’ on the night of the vote to demolish Duke Mansion. I woke up to such a post today and wished I could just fall aslseep and start over. Of course, the internet captures the best and worst of people, and no amount of sleep can change that.

So let’s jitterbug into this junk. Retro revivalism, just as a recap, is centralized onto the idea that what is old can be integrated into what is new- and here lies Duke Estate in Hillsborough NJ, whose historic signfiicance (though debated) is a prime (and continuously missed) opportunity to create new ideas upon while honoring those roots. With the post occuring nearly three years later, this raises serious eyebrows regardless of what our readers’ positions are on the matter. Here is the quote as it appeared, as sharp as a razor. We have respectfully omitted the name of the post writer.

“Life’s little ironies”, indeed. This house has been sold. The new owner has handed over the restoration to an architect and a general contractor who have each won awards for their work restoring and preserving historic buildings. They have said that they NEVER see a brick house from this time period (1803) in such beautiful condition. I am predicting this restoration will win a preservation award from Somerset County when it is complete.

By the way, if you read to the end of the article please make note, Doris Duke had several mansions, not one, two of which she specifically wished to be preserved – Newport and Hawaii.”

First of all, credit is given where credit is due; honesty is a cornerstone of our retro life. Yes, Miss Duke did have several mansions. Specification to ‘preserve’ is too ambitious of a claim for this person to make because the will of Miss Duke was arbitrary according to testimony, which is most likely due to modifications made when Doris was incapacitated and left her care to her seedy butler. This too, was dismissed many years ago. The problem we have here is that Duke only had one estateThere were two other structures that she maintained in her will (Hawaii and Newport), but only one location was all-encompassing. While Shangri La of Honolulu and Rough Point of Newport both boast architectural significance and historic designation as individual residence structures, Duke Farms of Hillsborough boasts dozens of significant, contributing structures that created New Jersey’s last intact estate.

To compare the estate, (which was residence to two significant figures, hosted guests of significance routinely, and offered a fascinating model for estate life that included private residences, staffing, public programs and access, as well as commerce), to a single-family residence from almost 80 years prior in its time of construction is liek comparing the talent of a singer to the talent of a needlepointer. They are similar, but their compositions are simply different.

Seeking validation in this manner is not exactly what we would expect, particularly if something wasn’t weighing heavily on someone’s mind. Especially after so much time has passed, it becomes a curiosity that these committeemen still attach to the topic. The good news is that it remains clear that the actions that were made clearly won’t be forgotten any time soon.

Maybe someday the Duke Estate will find its way to its former glory. Until then, the memories of its demise still taste like vinegar to us all.