A secret garden is hiding in Poughkeepsie.
You don’t need to know Morse code or get your hands on a treasure map to find it. In fact, the secluded paradise is just off Route 9. That does not mean you will spot it from the roadside, however.
Need a hint? Try doing a quick Google search of Samuel Morse, the dot and dash code creator himself.
Nestled on the side of the highway, Locust Grove is the former home of famed painter and inventor Samuel Morse. When the mastermind behind the telegraph was in search of a location for a summer home for himself and his family, he came across the scenic Poughkeepsie riverside. Inspired by the grandiose villas that caught his eye during a trip to Italy, Morse commissioned construction on the estate mansion in 1851.
From Morse to Museum
Although the picturesque abode was a welcome countryside retreat for the Morse family, who lived in New York City during the winter, it ultimately became too expensive to maintain. After Morse passed away in 1872, his family began renting the villa to William and Martha Young, a prominent local couple. The Youngs acquired full ownership in 1901 and immediately set to work revamping it for themselves and their two children. It was during this time that the house received a modern day facelift with the additions of central heating, electric lighting, and running water.
The couple’s daughter, Annette, inherited the entirety of the Locust Grove Estate after her brother, Innis, passed away in 1953. During the remainder of her life, she donated much of her family’s art and property to museums to ensure that it would all be well preserved. She lived at Locust Grove until her death in 1975. Four years later, the site opened to the public as a historical site and land preserve in 1979.
“It is one of the most intact historic house museums in New York,” says Kenneth Snodgrass, executive director at Locust Grove. “The house has barely changed in a century, down to clothes in dresser drawers and writing paper in desks.”
The house is packed to the brim with historic gems, thanks to the Young family’s dedication to the arts. Vintage furniture finds a home throughout the mansion’s many nooks and crannies, while drawings and paintings line the walls of each of the 40 rooms. Everyday goods like clothing and mementos linger throughout the space as well, creating the impression that Annette herself might walk through the door at any minute.
The Italianate living quarters are only a piece of what makes Locust Grove such an attractive addition to the Hudson Valley historical scene. Step outside for a breath of fresh air, and you can glimpse a sliver of the nearly 200 acres that comprise the Locust Grove property. The expansive landscape contains not only the impressive homestead, but gallery spaces, manicured gardens, and well worn hiking and walking trails as well.
“Locust Grove is an amazing community resource combining an outstanding fine and decorative arts collection, beautiful gardens, and landscaped grounds – all in the heart of the Hudson Valley,” Snodgrass enthuses. He and his team of staff and volunteers work to ensure that there is a little something to appeal to everyone’s interests. Gardening enthusiasts can wander through the flora and fauna while amateur historians browse the well preserved Young heirlooms, and fitness lovers break a sweat on the scenic trails. For the little ones, Locust Grove offers special education tours on Samuel Morse-approved topics like telegraphy, simple machines, and levers. The tours are a fun school trip option for teachers, since they function with New York State curriculum standards.
Come spring, the estate begins to buzz with warm weather activities. In addition to hosting events of its own, such as themed tours and exhibits, Locust Grove also operates as a gathering point for community car shows and art markets. In May, look out for the kickoff of “Sunset Sensations,” the annual onsite wine and food series. As the name would suggest, the series centers on “different chefs coming each month through the year to create delicious sampling portions, paired with wines by local experts,” Snodgrass explains.
Throughout the year, the grounds and gardens are open from 8:00 a.m. until dusk. Mansion tours return in May and cost $11 for adults and $6 for students ages 6 –18. The visitor center is open year-round, as is the museum store. Thanks to its natural beauty, Locust Grove is a popular venue for weddings and large scale events.
So the next time you find yourself cruising down Route 9, take a detour to Locust Grove. Only then will you discover why the hidden gem in the heart of shopping central is a priceless part of Poughkeepsie.
CURRENT EXHIBIT: Watercolor artist Claudia Engle presents her works in Locust Grove’s beautiful Transverse Gallery, open Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Don’t miss a reception with the artist on Thursday April 26 from 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.)
VISIT at 2683 South Road, Poughkeepsie; 8:00 a.m. to sunset daily.
LEARN MORE online at LGNY.org; or call (845) 454-4500.