• Birth of James Buchanan Duke

    James Buchanan “J.B.” or “Buck” Duke was born on December 23, 1856, on a farm in Durham County, North Carolina. The son of Washington and Artelia Roney Duke, he was only two years old when his mother died, and only seven years old when his father was drafted into military service by the Confederate States of America.

  • Partners in business

    J.B. Duke and brother, Benjamin, become partners with their father in the tobacco business — W. Duke, Sons and Company. Known for his business sense, J.B. takes charge of the manufacturing and marketing while his brother, Ben, handles the correspondence and office.

  • Young Entrepreneur

    J.B. Duke’s aggressive salesmanship and attention to quality brings the company into national prominence; they are the first to use mechanized production of cigarettes. J.B. Duke was 24 when his father retired and he became president of W. Duke & Son, Inc. He moves to New York City, where he begins selling his cigarettes to retail tobacconists.

  • American Tobacco Company

    After two years in business in New York, the company does $600,000 in business, tripling its volume. Duke reorganizes the firm as a stock company, and becomes president. His wealth grows as his business expands. He establishes the American Tobacco Company in New Jersey, which offers the most favorable terms for incorporation.

  • Business success

    By the turn of the century J. B. Duke had achieved dominance of the tobacco industry, acquiring competitors and consolidating the various form of tobacco production – plug, snuff, cigar and cigarettes – under the control of the American Tobacco Company, where he became president in 1890 at the age of 34.

  • Establishing Duke Farms

    J.B. Duke purchases a 357-acre farm on picturesque stretch of the Raritan River. He quickly acquires 40 adjacent farms, expanding the total acreage of Duke Farms to 2,200 acres. Over the years, through careful planning and the expenditure of an estimated $10 million, the property is developed into one of the most magnificent estates in the world.

  • Early landscaping

    Landscaping begins modestly when Reuben Hibberd, a family friend and horticulturist, is brought to the property to help oversee the estate transformation. As the project progresses, Duke has enough earth moved to totally transform the topography of the previously flat landscape.

  • Electricity comes to Duke Farms

    By 1897, J.B. Duke had excavated the reservoir, acquired control of the Raritan Water Power Company and constructed the Power House on the river to provide reliable electricity for his estate. He hires Michael Hickey, mason and builder, to prepare specification and plans for the Raritan Water Power Company electric light and power station.

  • A passion for water

    Duke’s interest in water is evident throughout the property. He creates his first lake near the original farmhouse by draining the marshlands along the Raritan River and damming a stream running parallel to the river. In 1900, Duke builds a dam across the Raritan River and acquires the tract of land on the far bank to construct a Filter House to filter the river water and pump it to the reservoir.

  • Duke Farms opens to the public

    Duke Farms opens to the public for greenhouse displays, picnics, skating and other forms of recreation.  

  • Coach Barn

    The Coach Barn is the first major building constructed on the property and one of three major barns. It serves as a stable and offices for J.B. Duke and his estate manager, with an apartment above for his chauffeur. Designed by architects Rendall, Taylor & Stevens of Boston, the five-story Norman clock tower still chimes the hours.

  • The Orchid Range

    The first conservatory, now known as the Orchid Range, is built on the property. Designed by Lord & Burnham Company and patterned after Kew Gardens, it provides a working environment for propagating palms, potted trees, ferns, orchids, and other tropical plants. It is strategically located along the New Jersey Central Railroad spur to facilitate the large shipments of plant material.  

  • Creating Duke’s Park

    Duke hires Horatio N. Buckenham as his chief landscape architect and engineer. Massive numbers of trees are planted—60,000 in one order from Europe, and 20,000 Blue Spruce in another. When asked how many trees he had planted, Duke replied, “Over 2 million,” and he had a written record of every purchase.

  • Filter House

    Duke purchases a mill property west of Nevins Street Bridge in Raritan, New Jersey, in order to build a larger filter house for Duke Farms.

  • Construction at Duke Farms

    J.B. Duke completes a reservoir, five lakes, and a series of carriage drives with well houses, pergolas, early fountains and stone walls. A bridge built by J.B. Duke carried the tracks of the South Branch Railroad across Duke’s Brook. A feature story on the Duke Mansion, designed by Kendall, Taylor & Stevens of Boston, appears in New York Times. 

  • Vision of a park

    The second phase of construction activity at Duke Farms is marked by a radical shift in scale and approach to encompass more formal landscape effects and objects. Horatio Buckenham is credited with the ultimate landscape design at Duke Farms. Major projects include the excavation of lakes and the construction of a new pumping house and filtration plant.

  • Investing in electricity

    Drawn by the need to power textile mills that the Duke family had operated in North Carolina and realizing the value of hydroelectricity, J.B. Duke, along with his brother and other investors, incorporates The Southern Power Company (now Duke Energy Corporation) in New Jersey.    

  • Construction of the Farm Barn

    The Farm Barn, designed by Kendal, Taylor and Stevens, is constructed by Barras & Smith. Landscape architect Horatio Buckenham is joined by Louis Miller, his colleague after they open an office in New York. Miller, also a landscape architect and engineer, is a specialist in water projects.

  • J.B. Duke marries Nanaline Holt Inman

    After divorcing his first wife, Lillian McGredy, J.B. Duke marries Nanaline Holt Inman, a widow from Atlanta known for her beauty. Plans are developed by Kendall Taylor & Stevens to enlarge the main residence.

  • Vista Lake

    The construction of Vista Lake is completed. With a bent-wing configuration, it is originally referred to as Lake 45, so named because its surface is 45 feet above the surface of the Raritan River.

  • Plans for a Mansion

    In 1910, J.B. Duke invited Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer to submit plans for a country mansion. In 1911, construction proceeded at Duke Farms on the two-level basement and service court for the mansion, including a tunnel from the approach road. But construction abruptly stopped after the foundation was laid; the reason remains unknown.

  • Birth of Doris Duke

    J.B. Duke becomes a father at age 57 with the birth of his only child, Doris Duke, on November 22. They spend most of their time together at Duke Farms, and Doris comes to associate the property with her father and fond childhood memories.

  • World War I

    J. B. Duke returns to Duke Farms upon the outbreak of World War I and puts hundreds of acres of farmland into cultivation, including 1,000 acres in hay, oats and corn for use by the U.S. Army.

  • Estate Closed to the Public

    Duke Farms is closed to the public due to vandalism. J.B. Duke’s attention moves away from horticulture and again to farm operations, selling vegetables and flowers and raising thousands of poultry. The Hay Barn is abandoned after a fire in January 1915.  Doris Duke will later transform the ruins into a sculpture garden.

  • 1917
    War Effort

    J.B. Duke contributes the steel from the foundation of the unfinished mansion at Duke Farms to the War effort.

  • Farm's Estimated Value

    Asset sheets for the period of 1917-1922 at Duke Farms show $4,500,000 in assets. Between 90 and 159 people are employed at Duke Farms, many devoted to the upkeep of the grounds.

  • Death of J.B. Duke

    J.B. Duke dies on October 10, 1925. At the time of his death, Duke’s estate is valued at $300 million. Approximately half of his estate is willed to the Duke Endowment. The remainder of his considerable fortune is willed to his daughter, Doris Duke, who is now 12 years old.

  • Debut in Newport

    At 18, Doris makes her debut into society in Newport, Rhode Island. Coming on the heels of the stock market crash of 1929, it is a subdued and tasteful affair. The Newport mansion is filled with orchids, a flower that Doris would come to love and cultivate at Duke Farms.

  • Doris Duke Marries James Cromwell

    At 22, Doris Duke marries James Cromwell, a privileged socialite. For their honeymoon, they spend nearly two years traveling around the world, during which time Doris is first exposed to Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. They end their world tour in Hawaii, and Doris Duke becomes captivated by Honolulu, so she and her husband extend what began as a short stay there to four months.

  • Hollywood Wing Added

    Doris Duke retains the services of Thomas W. Lamb to design a theater for the Hollywood Wing of the main residence. The addition includes an auditorium, stage, shooting gallery, projection room, and dressing rooms. James O’Connor is commissioned to design the rest of the wing, which includes an art deco gambling parlor, a bar and lounge, a tennis court and an indoor swimming pool.

  • Foreign Correspondent

    Doris Duke begins a brief career as a foreign correspondent for the International News Service.  After the war, she moves to Paris to write for Harper’s Bazaar magazine.

  • Louis Bromfield

    Doris Duke visits Malabar Farm, a farm owned by agriculturalist Louis Bromfield. The woods, streams and wildlife have a significant influence on her, as she shares Bromfield’s keen interest in the environment. Bromfield makes frequent visits to Duke Farms, where he is instrumental in helping Doris Duke upgrade agricultural operations on the property.

  • Farm Barn Converted

    The Farm Barn is converted from a stable and farming equipment storage facility into a dairy operation with cow stations and a milking parlor. Silos are installed on the south side of the building.

  • Gardens of the Nations

    Doris Duke, with the Horticultural Society of New York, begins to transform the 1917 Conservatory into a the “Garden of Nations.” The display includes thousands of flowers in 11 separate gardens, each representing different countries or temperate regions in a landscaped setting expressing Doris Duke’s interpretation of that area.

  • Creation of Duke Island Park

    Doris Duke donates land to help create Duke Island Park, a 343-acre site, which becomes a significant component of the Somerset County Park Commission's network of public parks and recreational areas.

  • Visitors Center

    Doris Duke converts the soil shed at the 1917 Conservatory into a Visitor Center for the Greenhouse Display Gardens.  Such adaptive reuse of a historic structure is rare in the mid 20th century.

  • Gardens Open to the Public

    The Garden of Nations housed in the 1917 Conservatory opens to the public. The 60,000-square foot public indoor botanical display is one of the largest in America at that time.

  • Purchase of Farmland

    Doris Duke purchases four farm parcels abutting the western boundary of Duke Farms, paying nearly $1 million for about 385 acres.

  • Farm Renovations

    Doris Duke acquires the Davis Farm; she restores the buildings, brings in cows and makes the farms operable again. The Ohlgart, Kaufmannm and Dutchess farms will remain intact into the 21st century. The farmsteads are significant primarily for the pattern of historic land use they represent, the culmination of 250 years of continuous and evolving farming on these sites.

  • Death of Doris Duke

    Doris Duke dies in October 1993 at the age of 80. Although she lived a private life, she contributes to a number of public causes. It is estimated that she has given away more than $400 million during her lifetime, often as anonymous contributions. In her Last Will and Testament, she leaves the majority of her estate to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and states that Duke Farms be used "to protect endangered species of all kinds, both flora and fauna . . . and for agricultural and horticultural purposes, including research."

  • Continuing the Legacy: The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is Established

    The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation is established three years after the death of Doris Duke with the mission of improving the quality of people's lives through grants supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research and the prevention of child abuse, and through preservation of the cultural and environmental legacy of Doris Duke's properties: Duke Farms; Shangri La in Honolulu, Hawaii; and Rough Point in Newport, Rhode Island.  

  • Duke Farms Opens for Tours

    Approximately 200 acres of the former estate at Duke Farms opens for guided public tours. In addition to the greenhouse tour that began in 1964, tours include the Country Estate Tour, the Garden Tour and the Country Manor Tour.

  • New Mission Adopted

    The Duke Farms Foundation Board of Directors adopts a new mission: "To be a model of environmental stewardship and to inspire visitors to become informed stewards of the land."

  • Renovations Begin

    Changes at Duke Farms begin the process of transforming the property into an environmental center, offering greater public access and educational programs with a focus on land stewardship and sustainability.

  • Duke Farms Open a New Orientation Center and 1,000 Acres of Property

    With the opening of a new orientation center in May 2012, Duke Farms is offering greater public access to the core area of almost 1,000 acres of the property for self-discovery, along with an expanded offering of educational programs focused on good stewardship practices and increased opportunities for research related to ecological sustainability of our regional environment.

E-news Sign Up

When you subscribe to this service, you will receive an e-mail message each time there is an update.

What also interests you?


If you wish to unsubscribe from our mailing lists in the future, you can click on unsubscribe in the newsletter.