Had I stumbled upon Locust Grove in a remote region, its beautifully landscaped grounds, well laid out paths and carriage roads, abundant water features and expansive river views would have been a surprise and a delight. But to find it near the heart of Poughkeepsie, at the verge of Route 9’s relentlessly developed stretch of shopping malls and plazas, is simply astonishing. For here the Italianate mansion built in 1851 by Samuel F.B. Morse perches on a bluff whose view of rolling fields, woods and ponds down to the Hudson River now seems little changed from the one the famous inventor and artist must have enjoyed. Except for the railroad tracks, the passage of an occasional tanker ship and the Mid-Hudson Bridge visible from points near the river, this seems a landscape practically frozen in time. The ground was thawing underfoot, however, and felt soft and wet in the low places as I walked the trails there this week. There was patchy snow on the ground and always, when I stopped still to listen for it, the sound of running water.
It occurred to me that water is the dominant theme here. The story of this watershed is told, or rather sung, by rivulets flowing along stone walls into brooks that run over stones and spill into ponds. All of this abundant water is heading down to the Hudson, though some of it flows invisibly underground until it emerges in springs on the slopes, and some is detained for a while, pooling in swamps or ponded up by a mill-dam. Water sluiced from this dam once powered a sawmill, and ice was cut from the pond for use by the Morse, and later, Young, families at the mansion.