What does Duke University have in common with Princeton? Gothic architecture, although not the actual stone used to create it.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is so known for its neoclassical Southern architectural cues that it was recognized as one of the 16 recipients of the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Medallion Awards and identified as a “work of art” by T.A. Gaines. The sweeping lines, towering pillars and picturesque arches evoke ancient Greece and the Age of Enlightenment in Italy. Not too far away from Blue Heaven, however, lies Duke University – often referred to as the “Gothic wonderland” by its students.
Gothic architecture is distinctly European, a style with popularity spanning centuries that produced some of the world’s most recognizable structures. Countless cathedrals and castles, town halls and palaces were constructed with the distinct pointed arches and ribbed vaults that began in twelfth century France.
Duke University takes cues from the likes of Oxford, Cambridge and Princeton – as interpreted by noted architect Julian Abele, who also designed the Widener Memorial Library at Harvard. James B. Duke – industrialist, tobacco baron, and co-founder of what would eventually become the Duke Energy conglomerate – provided the capital to build what we know today as Duke University’s main campus.
It’s long been rumored that Duke originally attempted to donate the funds to Princeton but was rebuffed when a condition for the endowment was that Princeton rename itself using the Duke family moniker, which lead to Durham’s then-Trinity College accepting the donation instead. This version of the story comes largely from interpretations of clumsy legal wording and no evidence exists to support the supposed offering of funds to Princeton. However, when beginning construction, Duke originally specified that “Princeton stone” be used.
“Princeton stone” is a specific form of granite found only in New Jersey. When the cost of quarrying and shipping the stone proved to be too much for even the wealthy industrialist to foot the bill for, options closer to home were quietly explored. In the end, it was a 72-acre farm in Hillsborough with close proximity to a railway line that supplied the stone. At $3.55 a ton, including delivery, versus the $15.05 for “Princeton Stone,” the local building material – called “Hillsborough Stone” or “Duke Stone” – was a bargain to create the campus that Aldous Huxley would eventually call “the most successful essay in neo-Gothic that I know.”