By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
Ann Harris, Democratic candidate for Township Committee, is calling for a public-private partnership to find a way to save the Duke family’s main residence on the 2,300-acre arboreal property in the northern part of the township.
The Duke Foundation has filed for permission to demolish the residence, which was the home of tobacco and energy magnate James Buchannan (Buck) Duke and later was bequeathed to his daughter, Doris, who became famous for philanthropy, love of art and in preserving the environment.
Ms. Harris said the Doris Duke mansion “is not the ordinary Hillsborough home, but a rare and precious part of the history of Hillsborough Township.”
She said she hoped the Historic Commission would see the project as an opportunity to display a part of Hillsborough’s history. If environmental methods and materials were used in the restoration, she said, the public would learn history, science and Ms. Duke’s love for the environment.
At the July 30 meeting, the foundation requested and received permission for a new roof for the Coach Barn, which is planned to be renovated and used as a conference center.
“If there are conferences lasting over days, the Doris Duke Home could be used as a bed-and-breakfast facility to complement the conference center,” Ms. Harris said. “This would create jobs for folks in the area, maintain that someone is watching over the Manor house to prevent any vandalism and display stewardship for the land by restoring the existing structure using green building techniques.”
If one million people have visited Duke Farms since it converted the cattle barn into a visitor center as part of a $45 million update to the total property, the restoration of the Country Manor Home would only increase the population of visitors slightly, because they are on the same property, which is open for environmental exploration and self-guided activities.
“Worrying about over-populating the property is a stretch with 2,740 acres to explore,” Ms. Harris said. The home doesn’t have to qualify for the National Registry of Historical Homes since that what would tend to increase the number of visitors, which the foundation seems to want to deter, she said.
Ms. Harris said the Historic Preservation Committee has an obligation to consider the extent to which the retention of home “would promote the general welfare by maintaining and increasing the real estate values, generating business, creating new jobs, attracting tourists, students, writers, historians, artist and artisans, attracting new residents, encouraging study and interest in American history and the history of Hillsborough Township; stimulating interest in the study of architecture and design, educating citizens in American cultural heritage or making the municipality a more attractive and desirable place to live.”
Ms. Harris said, in her reading of the history of Doris Duke and the Country Manor home, “It would seem to me that she loved this estate as her residence for entertaining and hospitality while displaying environmental interest as an importance to her guests. This estate was the place where she died and most people when they are near death request to be home rather that in another facility.
“I do not think Doris Duke, as a lady of wealth, who repaired and restored china and porcelain in her hobby workroom, would have wanted her Country Manor Home demolished, regardless of how the foundation interprets her will,” Ms. Harris said. “Architectural restoration was one of her interests. She left subtle hints to those who knew her that she cared deeply for restoration and preservation:
“She left the original foundation overlooking the lakes and great lawn that her father had built intact, when she could have had it filled in.
“She utilized the old hay barn as a garden for life-size statues when she could have had the stone walls demolished after the 1919 fire had destroyed the old hay barn.
“She converted the soil shed at the 1917 Conservatory into a visitor center for the greenhouse displays, which was an adaptive reuse of a historic structure.”
She said challenges with restoration could be overcome.
Many school buildings have had asbestos removed and still exist and are used for the public today. Many homes in Hillsborough experience mold remediation and that should not be a detrimental issue, she said.
Ms. Harris said testimony on July 30 was intended to prove the building is not of historical or architectural significance to the township, but it left the opposite impression on her.
“For me her presentation strengthened the importance of the Country Manor home as significantly important to the township historically and architecturally, which would immediately discourage and prohibit demolition,” said Ms. Harris.
According to architectural historian Emily Cooperman’s testimony, the addition of different wings to the Manor during different periods of time does not qualify the structure as displaying historic or architectural significance to qualify for the National Register.
“In my opinion as an educator, it shows the progression of history and architecture over time,” said Ms. Harris. “To me that is significant. Many people put additions or update their living conditions to reflect changes in their existing environmental habitats.”
Ms. Harris said the fact that the Duke Foundation did not maintain the upkeep of this home after Doris Duke’s death in 1993 does not mean that it cannot be restored.
“As interpreted in her will by a foundation of mostly men who rule the pursestrings of her estates, (foundation executive director Michael) Mr. Catania stated the foundation could not find a use for the building that would meet their mission statement,” she said.
At the Hillsborough Historical Preservation Committee meeting on July 30, Ms. Harris said she offered her background in grant writing to help seek money or create a partnership to help preserve the country manor home.
She said Mr. Catania “refused to honor my request to meet, saying it would be a waste of his time as well as mine.”
Ms. Harris said she was a teacher who was instrumental in helping Duke Farms win an award for outstanding environmental education presented by the Alliance for New Jersey Environmental Education in 2007.
By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor