Besides Samuel Morse, Who Else Lived at the Locust Grove Estate?
Growing up in Poughkeepsie, I would constantly pass the Locust Grove estate. I have been there for holiday events, field trips, and more. Besides being called Locust Grove, I hear it also referred to as the "Samuel Morse House." Though his time at the estate was impactful, what if I told you he spent some of the least amounts of time on the property? Locust Grove has seen many residents over the years, and many more important than you may realize.
Early Ownership (1771-1847)
The first owner of Locust Grove was Henry Livingston Jr. back in 1771. Livingston bought the property from his father and named the estate after the black locust trees. The name Henry Livingston Jr. may sound familiar for a few reasons. First, he was a colonel in the American Revolution, taking part in the Battle of Saratoga, and led a regiment into winter quarters at Valley Forge. Secondly, he was an artist and poet who was published in New York Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.
What you most likely know him as is the uncredited author of the famous Christmas poem, Visit from St. Nicholas, or Twas the Night Before Christmas, as it is better known today. Credit was originally given to Clement Clarke Moore in 1837, nine years after Livingston's death, despite Livingston's children claiming their father used to read them that poem years earlier. The truth about the authorship of the poem is still debated to this day.
After Livingston's death, his heirs sold the property to John and Isabella Montgomery, a wealthy couple from New York City.
Samuel Morse (1847-1872)
Three years after his breakthrough with the telegraph, Samuel Morse bought the land of Locust Grove in 1847. While the Montgomery's lived on the land, they built a cottage and had farming operations close to the river. Under Morse's ownership, he hired architect Alexander Jackson Davis in 1851 to remodel and expand the cottage into an Italianate villa, and improve the landscape around the house. Morse was influenced by a trip he had to Italy and requested that the villa have a Tuscan style. Morse sketched out the ideas for towers, windows, and floor plans himself, and gave them to Davis. Locust Grove was not Samuel Morse's main residency; however, it was his summer home.
The architect, Alexander Jackson Davis, was an influential figure of his day, particularly for his association with the Gothic Revival style. Other notable New York staples that he worked on that you may be familiar with include Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, Reuel E. Smith House in Skaneateles, Whitby Castle in Rye, and Winyah Park, Wildcliff, and the Davenport House in New Rochelle.
The Young's (1895-1975)
After Morse's passing in 1872, his family spent less and less time in Poughkeepsie and later rented out the land. In 1895, William Young moved in as a tenant and eventually purchased the property in 1901. William and his wife Martha recognized the historical importance of the estate and worked to restore it while adding in the modern amenities of their day. Preserving the property became a family legacy, as their children Annette and Innis worked to preserve and restore the house. In 1964, Locust Grove was declared a National Historic Landmark.
Open to the Public (1975-Now)
Innis passed away in 1953, making Annette the sole owner of the estate. Annette then passed away in 1975. In her will, she established a trust so that her house, property, and collections of arts and antiques could be opened to the public. Five years later, they were. The estate features the Young's 15,000 collections of furniture, paintings, and decorative arts. A highlight of the tour is getting to see an original Edison phonograph, which is kept in the billiards room.
Today, Locust Grove offers tours and lectures and holds special events throughout the year.