Vassar Student Association

Exploring the Hudson Valley: Locust Grove, Samuel Morse Historic Site

Locust Grove, Samuel Morse Historic Site


“What hath God wrought”—the first words ever sent via electrical telegraph in May 1844. The words came from the Bible, Numbers 23:23, and were in reference to the astonishing technology that allowed the telegraph’s inventor, Samuel Morse, to communicate between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. But these words could also be applied to the natural beauty surrounding the inventor’s Hudson Valley home, where he experimented and perfected his design.

Indeed, when Vassar students set foot on the rolling fields and picturesque emerald vistas of Locust Grove, the stress and anxiety of College will melt away into an appreciation for the divine splendor of the river valley. Locust Grove, the 150-acre estate of legendary inventor Samuel Morse, offers a view of the Hudson Valley right out of Frederick Church—a view invisible to those who remain on campus.

Morse, who lived between 1791 and 1872, received international acclaim for his invention of the telegraph. He was a professional painter for most of his career, but turned sour against the trade when he was not selected to paint the Rotunda in the Capitol building. He began experimenting and designing, and came up with an invention that would earn him more money than all of his paintings combined: the telegraph. Additionally, he devised Morse Code, a system for communicating over distances using the telegraph apparatus.

Although Morse code has since been replaced with iPhones and SMS text messaging, the land-line telegraph was standard for short- and long- distance communication until the 1880s. The telegraph was crucial for communications during various wars, including the Crimean War in 1854, and most notably the American Civil War, where the devices were used to rapidly deploy troops.

In 1847, Morse bought Locust Grove and built an Italianate mansion on a beautiful piece of property by the Hudson. A recent addition to the estate is a small but informative museum dedicated to Morse’s life, art and inventions. His landscapes, portraits and sculptures are exhibited alongside information about his scientific interests. The estate includes miles of landscaped paths and gardens. I recommend buying some lemonade in the gift shop, then sitting out on the patio overlooking the Hudson. With the scenic overlook, complete with weeping willows, you feel as if you’re sitting in a Hudson River School painting.

Located right on Route 9, the estate a short three-mile drive from campus. A cab ride is only about $7 per person—definitely doable for a day trip.

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