Browsing Through History at Locust Grove

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Organic Hudson Valley.

Locust Grove is a picturesque historical home that sits along the Hudson River on Route 9 in Poughkeepsie, where visitors can enjoy walks along the grounds that encompass amazing river views. It is probably best known as the home of the inventor of Morse code, Samuel F. B. Morse. However, by venturing just beyond the Morse family, there is the Young family, a local family that had a great influence on the Hudson Valley region and who have left a larger footprint on both the home and local area. In addition, the holiday season brings amazing decorations and activities for visitors to enjoy while learning about these historical figures.

The estate was used by Samuel F. B. Morse as a summer home beginning in 1852, and after Morse’s death, his family sold the house to the Young family, a wealthy couple from Poughkeepsie with two small children. Their daughter, Annette, lived at Locust Grove from 1895 until 1975. “She preserved her family’s enormous collection of antique furniture and decorative arts in the house, and created a museum to maintain the property after her death,” Ken Snodgrass, the Executive Director of Locust Grove, said. “She left not just furniture, paintings, silver and ceramics, but also her family papers and clothing to create the museum collection. Today, down to the writing paper in the desks and clothing in the dresser drawers, the house has barely changed since 1915.”

Young decided to donate the estate after witnessing the commercial development occurring around her, a prescient decision when considering the estate is almost entirely surrounded by commercial space today. “Young saw most of her neighbors houses turned into commercial development,” Snodgrass said. “She thought it was important to balance open spaces with commercial.”

Annette Young was an early environmental conservationist, and living in a time before recycling, or anything else resembling our modern definition of environmental conservation, this consisted mainly of preserving open space. In addition to Locust Grove, she also donated Locust Lawn, which is located in Ulster County.

While neither the Young family nor the Morse family decorated extensively for the holidays, today Locust Grove celebrates the season and creates what Ken Snodgrass described as, “A fun holiday fantasy for guests to enjoy.” The decorations aren’t historic, but are just intended to be fun and something for visitors to enjoy.

“Each year we create a scavenger hunt through the mansion’s 25 rooms featuring a different theme,” Snodgrass said. “This year, we’re bringing extravagant gifts exchanged by members of the Young family out of storage – some pieces have never been on view before! Guests will decipher clues in each room to find out what the gift is – everything from gilded candlesticks and jewel boxes, to embroidered silk robes and saddles.”

The scavenger hunt has fun aspects for both kids and adults. “Kids will have fun looking for the box decorated with cherubs,” Snodgrass said, referring to one of the items newly on display. “Adults will also enjoy learning that it’s made of ebony, decorated with Sevres porcelain panels, and was a gift to Mrs. Young from her husband.”

Something that makes Locust Grove special is how personal it is. “When people go to historical houses, they’re used to seeing things carefully preserved as what the family might have had,” Snodgrass said. “At Locust Grove, they are actually seeing what the family had.” Examples include an embroidered robe on display, and an accompanying photograph of Annette wearing the robe.

“We’re so used to seeing these recreated scenes. You’re seeing exactly the same rooms and exactly the same gifts.”

The holiday scavenger hunt occurs on the first three Sundays in December, the 6th, 13th and 20th. It runs from noon until 4 p.m. has an admission of $8/person. Guided tours are also available on Saturdays in December from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. with an admission of $11/person. The last tour of the day begins at 3:15 p.m.

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