Nearby Metuchen 08840: Duke Farms
From time to time, we find ourselves exploring beyond the boundaries of our town. We have fun discovering new places and events that are only a few minutes away. Like this event for example. We can also get overboard and explore way beyond. And so we thought, we’ll make this a permanent feature and christen it ‘NEARBY METUCHEN 08840’. We will seek out places, events that are within driving distance of Metuchen and hopefully enrich our lives even more. If you have suggestions, please let us know. For now, enjoy the newly re-opened Duke Farms in nearby Hillsborough. Only 16 miles or 24 mins away from downtown Metuchen!
Located on 2,740 acres in Hillsborough, N.J., Duke Farms serves as a model of environmental stewardship in the 21st century and inspires visitors to become informed stewards of the land. It is a place of education, enjoyment and research that enhances the environmental health of the region. Through the beauty of its natural setting, the diversity of its wildlife, and the scope and quality of its educational programs, demonstrations and research, Duke Farms inspires people to transform their approach to conservation and to start building a more sustainable future.
The creation of Duke Farms
J.B. Duke transformed more than 2,000 acres of farmland and woodlots into an extraordinary landscape. He excavated nine lakes, constructed some 45 buildings, and built nearly 2 ½ miles of stone walls and more than 18 miles of roadway.
He also installed approximately 35 fountains and populated his property with countless pieces of sculpture.
He employed hundreds of laborers and utilized the latest technologies in excavation, construction, water filtration and agriculture in pursuit of his vision.
Much of the landscape J.B. Duke created between 1893 and 1925 is still clearly evident at Duke Farms, a testament to his ingenuity, resourcefulness and determination, as well as his bold vision and tremendous resources.
In the early years of Duke Farms, J.B. Duke explored life as a gentleman farmer, raising and breeding cattle and horses and operating a race track on the property. By August 1893, Duke began inviting his New York friends to the estate, which he initially named Raritan Valley Farm.
By the end of the 19th century, Duke abandoned farming and proceeded to construct a great public park on his estate. His decision to open his estate to the public reflects the philanthropic ideals of his father.
Within six years after his initial purchase of land, Duke Farms had become “the Central Park of Somerset County.” Duke’s manipulation of water and landscape abounded with recreational opportunities for the community, such as picnics, ice skating, and gathering wildflowers. Scores of daily visitors enjoyed walking and driving through the park.
However, in August 1915, Duke Farms was officially closed to the public after years of combating vandalism, although individuals still could request and receive access to the property on designated days.
Then, as World War I siphoned off the labor force needed to maintain the property, Duke introduced large-scale agricultural production to the property on a scale that had never been seen in the region, converting his park to farm land to help the war effort.
Using innovative equipment including four tractors, a caterpillar, and the largest thresher ever used east of the Mississippi, Duke’s staff cultivated 340 acres of wheat and rye, 165 acres of corn, 6 acres of hay, and several hundred acres of miscellaneous crops with plans to plant another 700 acres in hay. This work continued into the 1920s when hundreds of tons of hay were harvested.
After J.B. Duke’s death in 1925, his daughter, Doris, inherited the property. Associating Duke Farms with fond memories of her father, Doris Duke made few major changes to the property. Her principal work at Duke Farms included the creation of indoor display gardens and the purchase and restoration of the western farms and farmstead structures.
Doris Duke also was a lifelong environmentalist with a keen interest in conservation. When she died in October 1993 at the age of 80, Doris Duke left the majority of her estate to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and expressed her wish that Duke Farms be used to drive positive change on a number of key issues regarding the stewardship of the natural environment.
The Duke Farms Foundation was created in 1998 to own and operate the property. Today, the property serves as a regional center for environmental stewardship.
The Farm Barn and other buildings on the property are powered by a 640-kilowatt ground-mounted solar array.
Visitors begin their trip to Duke Farms at the Orientation Center, housed on the first floor of the historic Farm Barn. Through displays and interactive exhibits, visitors can learn about the mission of Duke Farms and land stewardship and sustainability efforts on the property. It also is a place to learn about upcoming programs and events, obtain your entrance ticket, pick up a map or Eco Kit to take out onto the property, view a short film, or stop for refreshments at the café.
Hours of operation: Duke Farms is open six days a week, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Duke Farms is closed on Wednesdays, when the Orientation Center is closed and there is no access to the trails on the property. From the Orientation Center, visitors can access more than 18 miles of walking trails, or 12 miles of bicycle trails.
A small café on the first floor of the Farm Barn offers a selection of healthy sandwiches, wraps, salads, snacks and beverages from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
For those who cannot walk long distances, a tram is available to provide transport to the core area of the property, with stops at the Old Foundation, Orchid Range and Great Meadow. Duke Farms offers four miles of paved paths that are wheelchair accessible and stroller-friendly.
To assist with your exploration of Duke Farms, visitors are welcome to borrow an Eco-kit. This canvas shoulder bag contains binoculars, a compass, a note pad and pencil, and a copy of the field guide to help you identify plants and animals. To pick up an Eco-kit, please visit the reception desk in the Orientation Center.
Duke Farms offers 18 miles of paved, gravel, wood-chipped and mown-grass trails and pathways through a variety of habitats.
Duke Farms is one of the largest privately-held parcels of land in the State of New Jersey, and offers visitors many unique opportunities to learn about and enjoy nature throughout the year.
Duke Farms has paved and gravel paths for biking. You must bring your own bike and protective head gear.
There are excellent opportunities for nature photography (please note that commercial photography is not permitted on the property, all photos must be for personal use only).
Guidelines for Visitors
Duke Farms strives to be a model of environmental stewardship, inspiring visitors to become informed stewards of the land. They are home to a wide variety of wildlife species, and welcome visitors to experience these plants and animals in their native environments.
Visitors are asked to please observe the following guidelines.
For the safety and enjoyment of visitors and wildlife:
- Pedestrians and wildlife always have the right-of-way.
- Duke Farms has a carry-in carry-out policy for trash—please take your trash with you, or deposit it in bins at the Orientation Center.
- Adults are responsible for the minors in their care.
- Your activities should be restricted to marked trails.
- Bicycles are restricted to Ways (paved roads) and Lanes (stone trails). Vehicles are restricted to designated areas.
- Pets are not permitted.
Duke Farms prohibits the following activities:
- Alcohol use.
- Drug use.
- Firearms, weapons of any kind (including paintball weapons) and fireworks.
- Campfires and open burning, including portable grills.
- Disturbing habitats, including removing plants or animals; and feeding animals.
- Activities adverse to wildlife such as fishing, using remote-controlled vehicles, kites, boating, snowmobiles, tree climbing, etc.
- Swimming or wading in any body of water or fountain.
- Commercial activity, except by permit.
Duke Farms reserves the right to inspect visitor belongings, and to refuse or curtail any visitor’s stay
1112 Duke Parkway West Hillsborough, N.J. 08844
Phone (908) 722-3700
The Duke Farms orientation center at 1112 Duke Parkway West and trails are open six days a week, Thursday through Tuesday, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Duke Farms is closed on Wednesdays.
Please note that trails may be closed due to inclement weather, ongoing habitat regeneration projects or for maintenance.