Local Poughkeepsie History at Locust Grove

The mission of Locust Grove Historic Estate, Museum, and Nature Preserve (where I am conducting my internship) is to promote historic preservation, education, and environmental conservation through the preservation of, and public access to, the historic buildings, historic landscapes and historic collections at the Locust Grove Estate and Locust Lawn Farm (Gardiner, NY). The gift of Annette Innis Young, these two family homes, with their varied collections, have been preserved for the enjoyment, visitation, and enlightenment of the public.

The estate has a tremendous amount of history (as described on their website): “The main house at Locust Grove is a villa in the Italianate style designed in 1850 for artist and inventor Samuel F. B. Morse by architect Alexander Jackson Davis. Fifty years later the house was renovated and expanded for new owners William and Martha Young.  Their daughter, Annette Innis Young, eventually created the not-for-profit educational foundation that preserves the estate as a museum today. Locust Grove required a large and expensive staff to maintain, however, so after Samuel Morse’s death in 1872 his family spent little time at the estate and eventually rented it to William and Martha Young, a wealthy couple from Poughkeepsie. Hopeful that the property would be available for sale, the Youngs began to furnish the empty house with family heirlooms in 1895.  In 1901 they finally purchased the property and immediately began to expand and modernize the house as a year-round residence for their daughter, Annette, and their son, Innis. Mr. and Mrs. Young added a new, larger dining room wing, guest bedrooms, and practical conveniences like central heat, hot and cold running water, and electric lighting.

After the death of her brother Innis in 1953 Annette Young became the sole owner of the Locust Grove Estate as well as family properties in New Haven, New York City, and Ulster County.  Conscious of her family’s importance in the Hudson Valley, Miss Young began donating to museums the art, land, and historic houses she inherited so that they would be protected in perpetuity.  She spent twenty years at this project and, upon her death in 1975, established a not-for-profit foundation to ensure that Locust Grove, her home for eighty years, together with its collections and the Young family archives would be protected as a museum and nature preserve. The estate opened to the public in 1979 and today features the Young family’s 15,000 piece collection of furniture, paintings and decorative arts just as they were used in the early years of the 20th century.” (https://www.lgny.org/historic-mansion)

One of the ways they go about fulfilling their mission is by giving guided tours of the mansion. The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable, and give great historical detail to visitors to help them become immersed in the estate. Another method is through guided tours of the gardens. Locust Grove is known for its beauty not just in the mansion, but also on the grounds (including around 5 miles of nature trails). Locust Grove is an extremely popular wedding venue because of this, and the beauty of the gardens plays an essential part. As a not for profit, renting out the space for weddings plays an integral role in their ability to carry out their mission through programs such as school field trips. Locust Grove hosts thousands of elementary, middle, and high school kids throughout the year, educating them on local history as well as providing engaging science lessons related to the machinery used at the estate prior to becoming an historic site.

One of the methods they use to help further document the site, and maintain historical authenticity is by completing transcriptions of diaries written by past residents, mainly Annette Young and her brother Innis. This has been my main responsibility as an intern here. Going through the diaries helps to improve documentation of their massive archives and collections, which is full of roughly 15,000 items. Examples include helping to determine when an item entered the Young family collection, and possibly the motivation as to why it was acquired. Transcribing the diaries also helps to provide new stories to tour guides, and to help them further understand the personalities, passions, and traits of the members of the Young family, and the relationships they had with other noteworthy families of the Hudson Valley.