Somerset County News

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

108743d3a9597a08c7f3_hillspixrikkilynhauss.JPG
Author Rikki Lynn Hauss Credits: Rod Hirsch
7785256c6cc72e7912a2_hillspixrikkilynhaussbookcover.JPG
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
9586d93f4e5deba5660a_hillspixdorisdukeestatepostcard1.jpg
An early 20th-century postcard shows the Duke Estate in Hillsborough, NJ.
6672244a7d660509efd0_hillspixdorisdukedemo1.JPG
Workmen sift through the rubble as the demolition of the Duke Estate begins in March, 2016.
108743d3a9597a08c7f3_hillspixrikkilynhauss.JPG

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.

Sign Up for E-News

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: https://sites.google.com/site/theduchessbookstore/home.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Warren

Warren Financial Planner Fined $500K, Barred from Selling Securities for Defrauding Seniors of $6.1 Million, NJ Attorney General Says

June 16, 2018

NEWARK, NJ –  A Warren resident and his company, a Morris County investment advisory firm, were fined $500,000 in civil penalties and barred from selling securities for fraudulently selling at least $6.1 million in unregistered securities to elderly and retired New Jersey investors, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced on Friday. 

The Bureau of ...

Moms Helping Moms Foundation Receives Overwhelming Support from Community to Help Mothers this Mother’s Day

June 20, 2018

North Plainfield, NJ - Mother’s Day is often celebrated by showering the women in our lives with beautiful flowers, heartfelt cards, and taking them on special outings to show them how much they mean to us. Yet, for many low-income mothers living in our community, they struggle each day to provide the basics for their babies.

Diapers are a necessity yet one in three families in the ...

On Angels Wings: Helping First Responders Around the Globe

On Angel's Wings is a volunteer group of Firefighters and EMS workers that dedicate their time and resources to collect  outdated firefighting equipment, gear and apparatus that does NOT meet current NFPA and OSHA standards in the United States. 

 

These items would be disposed of in the garbage or a landfill, but On Angel's Wings is able to take this equipment and ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_c0dcc5b06e5dfbe83904_vbs2018-banner

Mon, June 25, 8:45 AM

Stonecrest Community Church, Warren

Summer Spectacular 2018 VBS

Religions And Spirituality

Carousel_image_c0dcc5b06e5dfbe83904_vbs2018-banner

Tue, June 26, 8:45 AM

Stonecrest Community Church, Warren

Summer Spectacular 2018 VBS

Religions And Spirituality

Carousel_image_c0dcc5b06e5dfbe83904_vbs2018-banner

Wed, June 27, 8:45 AM

Stonecrest Community Church, Warren

Summer Spectacular 2018 VBS

Religions And Spirituality

Obituaries

Jul 28, 1955 - Feb 8, 2018
Owner/Chef of Jaret’s Stuffed Cupcakes  Beloved Husband, Father, Brother and ...
Read more

Manutti Marina in Belmar: Top Choice for Boating, Fishing and All-Around Family Fun

June 12, 2018

BELMAR, NJ — It’s no secret that Belmar Manutti Marina ranks among the best boating destinations along the Atlantic coast.

Tucked along the eastern shoreline of the idyllic Shark River — just a five-minute trip by boat to the ocean — the state-of-the-art marina is a top choice among boaters looking to stay for the season, enjoy a vacation or spend the weekend.

In ...

Summer Camp Programs for Children and Teens Announced By Environmental Education Center

June 18, 2018

BERNARDS TWP., NJ – Each summer, the Environmental Education Center (EEC) in Basking Ridge holds programs that let children and teens explore nature for summer activities that both entertaining and an opportunity to learn about the environment.

The programs are organized and led by the EEC's staff of naturalists.

The EEC is a Somerset County facility located at 190 Lord ...

To Our Republican Supporters in Warren Township,

June 12, 2018

 

I want to thank the voters of Warren Township for the overwhelming support Gary and I received on the June 5th primary election.  This would not have been achievable without the hard work of our families, many friends and supporters as well as the loyal Republicans that cast a vote for us and our shared goals.  

 

The campaign is not over until the ...

Get Empowered to Help Prevent Suicide

Dear Editor:

Over the past week social media and the news have been filled with stories and articles encouraging people to seek help if they’re in emotional distress. There have been countless articles about the need to break the silence around the topic of mental health and suicide, and I am encouraged by the support people are extending to others.

Often, the death by suicide by ...

Watchung’s Rizzi Ties Record at Rotary Track and Field Meet, North Plainfield Middle School Dominates in Awards Tally

June 9, 2018

PLAINFIELD, NJ - With an overcast sky and pleasantly cool temperatures, young student athletes from area middle schools and one elementary school gathered for the 91st Annual Rotary Track and Field Meet, held June 6 at the Hub Stine Athletic Complex in Plainfield.

Vincent Rizzi, holder of the Meet high jump records for boys ages 12 and 13, tried valiantly to best the 14 year old boys’ ...

Thousands Expected for Sourland Music Festival

June 20, 2018

HILLSBOROUGH, NJ – The Sourland Music Festival will be held Saturday, June 23 from 3-10 p.m. at the Hillsborough Golf & Country Club at 146 Wertsville Road, rain or shine, to benefit the Sourland Conservancy.

Discounted advance-sale tickets are available online only, Children under 12 are admitted free.

“We’ve got a really powerful lineup of the region’s most ...

SCBP Biz Fest 2018 Draws Record Crowd

SOMERSET, NJ - More than 500 people attended Biz Fest 2018, Somerset County's ‘hyper-local’ trade show and networking event, on Thursday at the Imperia.

The Somerset County Business Partnership (SCBP) organized the event.  SCBP Vice President of Business Services Chris Edwards said that this year's Biz Fest was a huge success. 

"This has been ...

Update: Police Break Up Fight Involving 40-50 People at Bridgewater Commons Mall

BRIDGEWATER, NJ — No injuries have been reported in an incident that shut down Bridgewater Commons Mall Thursday evening after a fight involving a crowd of 40-50 people.

Police are still investigating unconfirmed reports of shots being fired, according to the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office.

The mall is closed for the evening as the investigation continues.

Somerset County ...

March for Watchung Library and Rally Set for Saturday

WATCHUNG, NJ - Supporters of keeping a Watchung Library in Watchung have organized a March For Watchung Library to be held on Saturday, June 16. 

The Coalition to Save the Watchung Library is rallying support and have asked all who want to participate to “paint a sign, put on some purple, and come out and join your friends and neighbors for a Rally on the Green and ...

Thousands Expected for Sourland Music Festival

June 20, 2018

HILLSBOROUGH, NJ – The Sourland Music Festival will be held Saturday, June 23 from 3-10 p.m. at the Hillsborough Golf & Country Club at 146 Wertsville Road, rain or shine, to benefit the Sourland Conservancy.

Discounted advance-sale tickets are available online only, Children under 12 are admitted free.

“We’ve got a really powerful lineup of the region’s most ...

Third-annual Juneteenth Parade and Heritage Festival in New Brunswick this Weekend

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The Vulcan Pioneers of New Brunswick, comprising the city's Black Fire Fighters Association, will host the Juneteenth Parade on Saturday, June 16 to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation.

Juneteenth celebrations are held across the country to mark the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas in June 1865. That state was one of the last locations to learn of ...

Manutti Marina in Belmar: Top Choice for Boating, Fishing and All-Around Family Fun

BELMAR, NJ — It’s no secret that Belmar Manutti Marina ranks among the best boating destinations along the Atlantic coast.

Tucked along the eastern shoreline of the idyllic Shark River — just a five-minute trip by boat to the ocean — the state-of-the-art marina is a top choice among boaters looking to stay for the season, enjoy a vacation or spend the weekend.

In ...