Day Trip: Samuel Morse Home

The Morse home

–. — / – …. . .-. . *

By Mary Anne Myers

Just twenty miles north on Route 9 in Poughkeepsie, a stunning example of a historic Hudson estate is meticulously preserved and waiting for your visit.  Make a left off Route 9 to enter Locust Grove, one-time home to inventor and artist Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872), and leave the strip-mall sprawl behind as you explore the 180-acre grounds on well-graveled trails of old carriage paths.  Pack a picnic and some bug spray, and plan to spend a few hours strolling through lawns and manicured grounds or hiking through hemlock groves along a ravine.  The gardens and grounds are open daily from 8 a.m. to dusk, while the Visitor Center with its two galleries and lovely gift shop are open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.  No fees are charged to park or to enter the Visitor Center and grounds.

For $10, ($6 for children 6-18 and $9 for seniors), you can take a one-hour guided tour of the estate’s Tuscan-style villa with its tower, wrap-around porch, and treasured Hudson River views.  Although branded as the Samuel Morse house, the estate was established by the Livingston family in the 1700s.  Morse, a painter of portraits and historical themes in his youth, acquired the nucleus of the property in 1847 after capitalizing on his 1844 patent for the telegraph, the invention that ushered in the age of rapid communication.

The younger Morse features prominently in David McCullough’s new book, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (Simon and Schuster, May 2011) if you want to read up on him before you visit Locust Grove.  At his Hudson River retreat, Morse enlisted architect Andrew Jackson Davis to help him realize his artistic vision and create a romantic picturesque landscape around the house, which he remodeled in a style familiar to him from his travels to Italy.  Locust Grove was his family’s summer home for 25 years until Morse died in 1872.

View from Morse house

Although his imprint on the property is still apparent, Morse’s possessions had long been removed from the house when William and Martha Young, a Poughkeepsie couple of inherited wealth and social prominence, acquired it in 1895.  Keen to foreground the legacy of their new home, they kept two daguerreotypes of Morse in their front foyer, which still hang there today.  The Youngs expanded and modernized the Locust Grove estate, where they lived in high style and raised two children, Annette and Innis, with the help of 12 servants.  Annette Young, who died in 1975, created a not-for-profit organization to preserve the estate for “the enjoyment, visitation, and enlightenment of the public.”

And preserved it is, with all of the Young’s furnishings and collectibles acquired through decades of world travel adorning the rooms exactly as they did “back in the day” of the early 20th century, right down to the dolls in the dollhouse and the tin Hydrox cookie boxes on the shelves of the kitchen’s pantry.  If you enjoy visiting historic homes, this one is well worth the reasonable price of admission.  If not, the grounds alone will justify the trip. For more information, visit lgny.org.

Photo by M.A. Myers

 *Morse code for “Go there.”


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