Somerset County News

Local Author Chronicles the Extravagant Life of Doris Duke and the Demolition of Her Mansion in “The Duchess of South Somerville”

Author Rikki Lynn Hauss Credits: Rod Hirsch
The cover of "The Duchess of South Somerville." Author Rikki Lynn Hauss will be signing copies of her book Sunday, March 5, 2-4 p.m. at The Dragonfly Café, 14 E. Main St., Somerville. Credits: Rod Hirsch
An early 20th-century postcard shows the Duke Estate in Hillsborough, NJ.
Workmen sift through the rubble as the demolition of the Duke Estate begins in March, 2016.

SOMERVILLE, NJ – When she was born in 1912, newspaper society columnists christened her "The Richest Little Girl in the World" and thus began an obsession and love affair with philanthropist, art collector, bon vivant and horticulturist Doris Duke.

Duke was larger than life, destined to live a life of extravagance and elegance; as a young teenager she inherited her father’s wealth, his tobacco empire and his beloved mansion in Hillsborough alongside the Raritan River, the spoils from a bitter custody battle with her estranged mother.

Some called her eccentric and enigmatic, while others who worked for the billionaire and who lived on the grounds of the expansive 2,700-acre estate knew her to be compassionate, generous and down-to-earth, not afraid to get her hands dirty working chores in the fields, the barns and the greenhouses surrounding the mansion.

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Duke touched thousands of lives and had a huge impact on the world stage and in the towns that surrounded her majestic mansion in Hillsborough; her benevolence stretched across the country and around the world, but she always took care of the grass roots organizations in the communities close to home: the Hillsborough Boys’ Football Association, Hillsborough fire departments and rescue squads; the Manville First Aid Squad, the Raritan Police Department, the Franklin Township Food Bank, the Somerset County Salvation Army unit, the United Way of Somerset County and many others.  

An adventurous globe trotter who fancied the world’s cultures, at times dripping in diamonds, with palatial homes across the country and Hawaii, the heiress had a profound impact on those who knew her.

For those who only know of her through the photos, news stories and gossip columns from the past, there is a continuing fascination with the wealthiest person to have ever lived in Hillsborough.

One such person is Hillsborough resident Rikki Lyn Hauss, a 22-year-old grad school student born two years after Duke died in 1993 at the age of 80.

A 2012 graduate of Hillsborough High School, Hauss has written a book, “The Duchess of South Somerville,” which chronicles Duke’s life, including first-person reminisces from those who worked for her over the years, and a chronology of the controversy leading up to and surrounding the demolition of the mansion in 2016.

The 179-page book includes hundreds of vintage and color photographs, including pictures that were taken inside the mansion shortly before it was leveled.

Hauss was the youngest member of DORIS – Destruction of Residence is Senseless – a ragtag, grass-roots group of historic preservationists, people who had worked for Duke, people who had lived on the property and others, like Hauss, who couldn’t understand, and wouldn’t accept the fact that the mansion, built in the early 1900s, was beyond restoration or that the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, owner of Duke Farms, was determined to level the mansion built by her father.

DORIS mounted a spirited effort to halt the demolition through a series of lawsuits that extended over a year’s time, but eventually, all legal remedies were exhausted, with the demolition taking place in March and April of 2016.

“Our fight was to spare heritage, history, and a sense of home that this billionaire tried so hard to maintain. My head still spins over how much work was put into the Estate . . . and how quickly it all reduced to rubble and memory,” Hauss writes in her book.

It took Hauss 10 months to complete the book. She said the experience was most gratifying because so many of the contributors to the book were open and generous with their time.

“Being welcomed into peoples’ homes and learning why Doris Duke was special to them, and the mark she left on people, it was very humbling for them to trust me with that information and for me to provide a venue,” Hauss said.

Hauss and other members of DORIS will be at the Dragonfly Café, 14 E. Main St., Somerville, on Sunday, March 5 from 2-4 p.m. to share their reminisces of Duke and life on the estate.

Copies of her self-published book will be available for purchase.

“It will be an open forum, a chance for people to get to know the DORIS group and why we fought so hard; we did not do this to get rich or famous, we did this because we miss Doris Duke and the way she did things,” Hauss said. “We’d like to bring back her sense of community to the area.”

The back cover of the book reads: “Imagine yourself encompassed in thousands of acres of open space, surrounded by pleasant faces of a small community, natural beauty across all seasons, stately buildings from an era bygone, and a 67,000 square foot mansion in your father’s fond memory.

“Such was the home of Doris Duke, the ‘richest girl in the world’ thanks to her father’s tobacco empire of the 1800s. She became a Duchess in Somerset, NJ and enchanted the world with her constant charity and eccentric, fascinating life.

“But what had Miss Duke always returning to her humble South Somerville home? What was life like behind the stone walls that etch out the borders of the Dukes’ Farm? ‘The Duchess of South Somerville’ will take you back in time to the Gilded Age onward to experience life as it was at the grand Duke Estate.

“The Duchess of South Somerville is also available online through the Duchess Bookstore:

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Missing in Warren: Have You Seen Jax?

March 22, 2018

WARREN, NJ - Have you seen Jax? Jax is a young Husky missing from the Reinman Road area on Thursday afternoon.

His family says, “Our dog ran out of the yard. He is a husky and less than a year old. Very friendly and responds to Jax. Please share and contact me if you see him! Thank you so much 😞 he does not like cars by the way!”

Contact Colby ...

UPDATE: Four’Easter May Bring Another Foot of Snow, Be Prepared for School Closures and Power Outages in Warren Township and Surrounding Area

March 20, 2018

WARREN, NJ - Happy Spring. Get the milk, bread and eggs. Get the generator, gas and chainsaw and be prepared to lose another day of spring break if Wednesday is called a snow day. Heavy mixed precipitation is expected with snow accumulations of 8 to 14 inches in our area by Wednesday evening when the fourth Nor’easter of the year hits. #foureaster is trending, and Winter does ...

Warren Township to Collect Winter Storm Quinn Tree Debris

WARREN, NJ - The Department of Public Works of Warren Township will be collecting tree and brush debris from all Warren Township residents in the aftermath of Winter Storm Quinn.

Due to the intense effects of Storm Quinn that impacted Warren Township on March 7, the Township Committee has authorized and directed the DPW to. begin the collection process ...

Somerset County Opens Emergency Shelter for Storm Victims at RVCC

BRANCHBURG, NJ – Due to the extended power outages in Somerset County as a result of Winter Storm Quinn and the expected cold temperatures over the next few days, the Somerset County Office of Emergency Management has partnered with the American Red Cross to open a shelter for county residents at Raritan Valley Community College.

The shelter opened as of 5:30 p.m. Saturday, ...

Update from Warren Office of Emergency Management on Saturday, Mar. 10

WARREN, NJ - The Warren Township Office of Emergency Management has provided a timeline and Jane Asch at Warren’s Office of Emergency Management has updated storm recovery information as of 1 p.m. Saturday, March 10 with the following:



The most pressing issue is restoration of power. It may be helpful to understand the triage system both JCP&L and ...

Affordable Housing in Warren: How we got here and where we're going

March 23, 2018


In 1975, New Jersey launched an effort to force municipalities across the state to provide affordable housing to low- and moderate-income families.

From the outset, Warren Township has worked hard to help shape debate around the issue and influence the rules that have determined state mandates.

The New Jersey Supreme Court's first Mt. Laurel ruling (in 1975) established the ...

Siblings Host Dinner in Support of Our House

In the spirit of giving back, one family has made a difference in the lives of adults with developmental disabilities by hosting a dinner and silent auction at Sette restaurant in Bernardsville on March 17, 2018, raising $26,000 for the non-profit, Our House, Inc., of New Providence.

Philip and Maria Provenzano, of Nutley, and Angela Provenzano Schaub, of Westfield, organized the fundraising ...


South Plainfield – Joanne Gallo, 68, of Palm Beach Gardens, FL and Warren, NJ, passed away ...
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AAA Cautions: Daylight Saving Could Affect Daily Commute

March 10, 2018

WARREN, NJ - AAA is reminding drivers that the change to Daylight Saving Time may create distractions on the roadway and challenges for drivers who lost an hour of sleep. Daylight Saving Time begins on Sunday at 2 a.m.

“As we spring forward, drivers should be aware that the time change will also mean changes to driving habits,” said Robert Sinclair, Manager of Media ...

Student Activist Organizes March for Our Lives Vigil March 24

March 23, 2018

SOMERVILLE, NJ  - Like millions of Americans, Somerville High School junior Kira Edgar was fraught with anger and outrage by last month’s shooting deaths of 17 students and staff at their high school in Parkland, Fla.

The 17-year-old decided to add her voice to a growing nationwide protest against gun violence.

She is one of 19 student organizers of the statewide March for Our ...

Freeholders Endorse Armed Security in all Somerset County Schools

SOMERVILLE, NJ – Following the Parkland, Fla school shooting last month in which 17 students and staff were killed, Somerset County Freeholder Director Patrick Scaglione and Freeholder Mark Caliguire Thursday announced that the freeholder board will fund a second armed school resource officer at the county Vocational & Technical High School in Bridgewater, and urged every school ...

Weekend Ideas in Somerset County, Plus Easter Egg Hunts

Things to do in Somerset County: 

Weekend 3.23 to 3.25

1. 5k Race to Wellness, Duke Island Park

2. A Virtual Tour of the Moon, Duke Farms

3. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? – Opening Weekend, Villagers Theatre

4. KidPreneurs, Bridgewater Commons

5. Goodnight Moon & The Runaway Bunny, Theatre at RVCC

6.  Ahoy Mate! A Voyage ...

Warren Township Ranks as 25th Safest City in America and 6th in New Jersey for 2018, National Council for Home Safety and Security Says

WARREN, NJ - Warren Township is the sixth safest city in New Jersey and also ranks as No. 25 in the Top 100 Safest Cities in America for 2018, the National Council for Home Safety and Security says in its latest ranking.


“As Mayor, I believe that I speak for the entire Township Committee regarding our appreciation of the efforts of our Police Department and all ...

Weekend Ideas in Somerset County, Plus Easter Egg Hunts

March 23, 2018

Things to do in Somerset County: 

Weekend 3.23 to 3.25

1. 5k Race to Wellness, Duke Island Park

2. A Virtual Tour of the Moon, Duke Farms

3. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? – Opening Weekend, Villagers Theatre

4. KidPreneurs, Bridgewater Commons

5. Goodnight Moon & The Runaway Bunny, Theatre at RVCC

6.  Ahoy Mate! A Voyage ...

Travel Fun - Senator Cory Booker is Bested by Senator Jeff Flake in a Snowball Fight on Capital Hill

WASHINGTON, DC - Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Cory Booker of New Jersey had a spirited snow ball fight in front of Capital Hill.  This combines multiple things that we like at TAPintoTravels.  It includes extended work travel, a great tourist city, and two grown men having fun.

Is it immature?  A little. Is it funny?  Definitely.

The sad part is Cory got bested by ...

The Perfect Travel Pack - The Airport Repack Because of a Delayed Flight - What You Really Need

If you have traveled a lot, you have had a canceled flight.  Do you know how to do an airport in such cases?

Well, on a recent canceled flight on Norwegian Air from Berlin to New York, we had to do it.  Our experience is now your gain.

The slide show above shows you step by step, how it was accomplished.  Here we will explain it.

For starters, think about your ...

St. Patrick’s Day Sobriety Check in Belmar/Neptune Area on Tap by State Police

March 17, 2018

BELMAR, NJ — Giving no details on location and time, New Jersey State Police plans to conduct a sobriety checkpoint on Saturday, March 17 in the area of Belmar and Neptune Township,

The state police made the announcement on its Facebook page, alerting motorists that state troopers will be pulling over vehicles at this undisclosed location and time  “looking for signs of ...

'Trying' explores age, youth and points of history in poignant production

‘Trying’ explores youth, age and points of history in poignant production

By Liz Keill

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The George Street Playhouse presents an engrossing, two-character play based on the real life of Francis Biddle, former Attorney General.

Biddle, a Harvard educated lawyer, served under Franklin Roosevelt and later Harry Truman during the Nuremberg Tribunal. His ...