Home of the inventor of the telegraph

Locust Grove - Samuel Morse House, Poughkeepsie New York
Date added: January 06, 2023 Categories: New York House
Front elevation (1964)

Although it was not until May 24, 1844, that Samuel Finley Breese Morse telegraphed his famous message "What hath God wrought!" from Washington to Baltimore, he had been working on a long-range telegraph since 1832 and had acquired his patent in 1837. Despite the claims of various other inventors, Morse's patent has been upheld, and he is universally credited as the father of the telegraph.

Morse purchased Locust Grove in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1847. He had been a wanderer for years, yet he returned to Locust Grove summer after summer, adding sections to the original house and making it very much his own home. Locust Grove has remained substantially unchanged since Morse's occupancy, and has undergone restoration for use as a museum.

The inventor of the telegraph was born in Charlestown, Massachusetts, on April 27, 1791. Upon graduating from Yale in 1810, Morse determined to follow painting as a career and sailed to England to study under Washington Allston. The young artist returned to the United States in 1815 and for 15 years practiced his profession with artistic success, but financial failure. He again set out for Europe in 1829, where he spent the next three years studying, painting and traveling. During his wanders through France, Morse observed the French semaphore telegraph and saw how it sped the transmission of messages. With the benefit of more than just an elemental knowledge of electricity, the artist apparently for the first time, began to wonder if an electrical telegraph could be developed.

Morse boarded the Sully in the fall of 1832 to make the return trip to the United States. Dr. Charles T. Jackson, an eminent American scientist, was a fellow passenger of Morse's and one evening the two became engaged in conversation. The talk turned to electricity at one time and during the course of the discussion Morse said that it should be possible to send messages by electricity. Stimulated by the ensuing discussion, Morse, upon returning to his cabin, sketched the basic idea for an electrical telegraph in a notebook. This marked a turning point in his life.

Upon his arrival in New York on November 16, Morse began to devote more and more time to developing the telegraph. By 1835 the inventor's apparatus could send a message a very short distance and print it. Morse continued to improve his telegraph with the help of others and in September 1837 he exhibited the improved instrument before a number of colleagues. He applied for a patent in the same month.

Completely abandoning painting in 1837, Morse began the long arduous struggle to have his invention accepted by the public. He first traveled to England and France to secure patents, but both nations rejected his claims. Returning to America, Morse sought to gain support from the National Government. Not until 1843 did he meet with success, when Congress, just before it ended its 1843 session, appropriated $30,000 for the construction of an experimental line between Washington and Baltimore. Securing permission from the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to place a line along its right-of-way, Morse quickly inaugurated the project. Workmen initially ran the wire through pipes and then buried the pipes, but after eight or ten miles of wire had been laid faulty transmission forced a halt. It was this crisis that compelled Morse to turn to poles, and during the winter the laborers removed the wire from the pipe. With the return of warmer weather, poles were erected and the wire strung over them. Morse's line ran from the Supreme Court Chamber in the capitol to the Baltimore and Ohio depot on Pratt Street by early May 1844, and on May 24 he tapped out the now immortal phrase, "What hath God wrought."

Morse's remaining 27 years continued to be full ones. He engaged in numerous activities, one of the most important being the defense of his invention. Between 1848 and 1854 he was involved in almost continuous litigation over the telegraph, and only in the latter year did the courts proclaim him to be the inventor of the telegraph. Morse died in 1871, and honored the world over for his contribution to the advancement of mankind.

Building Description

Locust Grove, the Samuel F. B. Morse House, was originally the name of an eighteenth-century house on the same location, owned by Robert Livingston, Jr. This property was sold to John Montgomery, who removed the old house and built a rectangular two-story frame building in 1830. In 1847, Morse purchased the house as a summer home, and used the standing structure as the nucleus for a cruciform Italianate villa, renamed Locust Grove, which the inventor completed in 1852.

Morse's renovations designed with the assistance of Alexander Jackson Davis, the architect, began with the two-story additions of rooms on the north and south ends of the existing house. The room on the south end, which eventually served as his study, was three-sided and gave the southern facade of the house an octagonal shape. An octagonal, one-story veranda was constructed around this end as well, and it is decorated with cast-iron latticework. The addition on the northern end was a simple extension of the rectangular dimensions of the original house.

At the same time Morse constructed a bisecting axis, running east to west through the main house. On the west side, a four-story, rectangular tower, of stuccoed brick was erected. On the east side, a porte-cochere, of the same dimensions as the tower, was constructed, with another room above, under a gable roof. The three round-headed passageways in the porte-cochere are topped with hood molds. On the eastern end of the second story of the porte-cochere there is a modified Palladian window. The other windows which average approximately one per bay, have simple frames, supported by consoles. The other exceptions to this are the round-headed windows at the fourth story of the tower, which are grouped three to a side. There is a small balcony projecting below these windows on the west facade of the tower. This balcony is repeated at the third story, however, this octagonal balcony is supported by the octagonal bays which project from the west wall of the tower at the second and first stories.

The house, which contains a basement and a subbasement, is supported on stone foundations. The attic, at the third-floor level, is covered with a gable roof of slate tiles. The south end of the house however has an adjoining three-sided hip roof, while the tower has a separate hip roof. The main house has a bracketed cornice, while the tower has rafter ends protruding from the eaves.

The interior of the house has remained substantially unchanged since Morse's occupancy, although the north room on the first floor has been enlarged and the wood floors have been replaced. Some of Morse's furnishings remain.

The grounds of Locust Grove still consist of the approximately 108 acres which Morse purchased in 1847. Most of the land is kept as lawn, pasture, and woodland. The area in front of the house is still planted with trees, many of which are locusts. The position of the house affords broad vistas of the Hudson River and the Catskills to the west, and the Fishkill Mountains to the south. No outbuildings that date to Morse's period are extant. The stables, the barn, the gardener's cottage, the toolshed, greenhouse and other extant outbuildings all date from 1900 or later.

Locust Grove was maintained as a private residence, until 1975, when the property was deeded to the Huguenot Historical Society for use as a historic house museum.

Locust Grove - Samuel Morse House, Poughkeepsie New York Front elevation (1964)
Front elevation (1964)

Locust Grove - Samuel Morse House, Poughkeepsie New York West elevation (1962)
West elevation (1962)