To the editor:
The Duke Farm Foundation has been less than enthusiastic to hear from the public of any ideas that might save the Doris Duke Country Manor Home.
The main residence of Ms. Duke was an impressive, sprawling 67,000 square feet of many large rooms and smaller 20-by-20-foot bedrooms upstairs with adjoining bathrooms. Upstairs was never opened to the public, but the public was allowed to view the downstairs during an opportunity to learn how plants could enhance a living space in 2007-2008. Even though the house was not maintained in the manner that Ms Duke would have given, walking through it still gave me a feeling of stepping back in time, even without the furniture and most of the décor removed for auction.
For five years I was privileged as a teacher to take more than 3,600 5th-grade students to Duke Farms for a day of outdoor environmental studies. On our way to Lake 45 for water study we would always pass the Main Residence and students would ask, “What is that huge building in the distance?” I would respond that it was the home of Doris Duke and explain she was about their age of 12 when she inherited this farm estate at her father’s death in 1925. Their curiosity was piqued; they always asked if they could come back another day to explore the “mansion.”
Doris Duke’s beloved Country Manor Home was truly her home. In her will, she stated that New Jersey was her place of residence. She archived more than 250 boxes of files now housed at Duke University. Dating back to 1914, Ms. Duke created an extensive record-keeping system of maintenance, repairs and management of staff for the home. Was she preparing future generations for the historically significant residence she loved?
Here is a vision of what it could be if restored to preserve a historical period, inspired by the popular PBS show “Downton Abbey.”
Create a living museum with helpers dressed in costumes of the time period, perhaps a bed and breakfast inn to create an income for maintenance, jobs and upkeep. Serve meals farm to table in the dining room. Educate with videos in the theater room. Enjoy chamber music for evening entertainment in the music room. Stay active by playing tennis on the indoor tennis courts or take a swim in the pool. To prevent unwanted traffic, provide horse-drawn carriage rides or the tram to and from the main gatehouse.
It could become a priceless human habitat where nature nurtures the soul during a weekend getaway from life as we know it today. Enhanced by the wonderful restoration projects that are being done to preserve the coach barn for a conference center, other cottages on the property and the impressive visitor center barn completed in 2012, it truly could be experiencing a bygone day of elegant living while learning about the Duke family’s environmental initiatives.
To the editor: