The South Road Estates
In 1850, the completion of the Hudson River Railroad to Poughkeepsie sparked a boom in farm real estate located on Poughkeepsie's northern and southern outskirts.
Poughkeepsie was now a reasonable commute from New York and a safe distance away from the city's cholera epidemics and summer heat.
Wealthy businessmen seeking rural havens quickly began the process of transforming simple farms into country estates, equipped with gatehouses, gardens and opulent mansions.
Today, a small scattering of gatehouses, outbuildings and plantings are all that remain of the South Road Estate District - with a few notable exceptions such as Maple Grove, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
Building Maple Grove
The creator of Maple Grove was New York Banker Charles A. Macy, who purchased it in 1850 as a 35-acre parcel containing only a small farmhouse and barn, probably dating from the 1830s. (Both of these original buildings are still highly visible near the edge of Route 9.)
In contrast to these humble buildings, Macy immediately erected the brick mansion now known as Maple Grove. Its careful symmetry and dramatic elevated setting clearly created a dignified statement of Macy's prosperity and taste.
We know little of Macy except that his connection to Poughkeepsie was at least partly a family one. His wife, Sarah, was the sister of one of Poughkeepsie's leading real estate men, George Corlies, the developer of Garfield Place and South Hamilton Street.
At the same time Maple Grove was being built, celebrated landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing was working just to the north on Matthew Vassar's estate, Springside.
Also working nearby was well-known architect Alexander Jackson Davis, employed by Samuel Morse to redesign Locust Grove.
Although it is tantalizing to speculate on the involvement these designers may have had in Maple Grove, no direct evidence has yet been found linking them to the property. The influence of Downing and Davis, however, can be seen in the exceptional gothic detailing and pastoral vistas of Maple Grove.
Life at Maple Grove
Occupants of Maple Grove enjoyed a variety of rural pursuits. Outbuildings included a gatekeeper's cottage, two barns, a carriage house, an ice house (now a residence), a farmer's cottage, and a greenhouse (now in ruins).
Formal gardens as well as apple, pear and peach orchards covered part of the grounds. Cows, chickens and horses were also kept on the estate.
Charles Macy remained at Maple Grove for only seven years before selling the estate and returning to New York. Two other New York families briefly occupied Maple Grove throughout the 1860s, until finally the estate caught the eye of a New York banker and New Orleans cotton broker named Adolphus Hamilton and his wife, Matilda.
After having unhappily tried to raise their family in both Europe and New York, Adolphus and Matilda Hamilton settled themselves and their three children into a quiet life at Maple Grove in 1870.
In 1885, their daughter Elise married John Kinkead, a local doctor and widower with two young children. The new bride, and now stepmother, joined her husband and his children and in-laws at their 143 Academy Street home.
But upon the death of her mother in 1891, Elise Kinkead returned to her beloved childhood home, Maple Grove. Using the sizable inheritance from her mother's death, Elise and her husband engaged architects William R. Walker and Son of Providence, Rhode Island to design an extensive remodeling of Maple Grove's first floor and central staircase in the elegant Colonial Revival style.
Elise Kinkead's only sister, Edith, also married a Kinkead brother and took up residence in 1909 at Southwood, an estate southwest of Maple Grove, just a short distance down Route 9.
Two sisters thus married two brothers and all became neighbors. This unusual interconnectedness helps explain the family's deep ties to this land and their resistance to the intense development pressure that destroyed many other estates along Route 9.
The children and stepchildren of Elise and Edith Hamilton-Kinkead continued to occupy Maple Grove and Southwood throughout their lives, but all four remained unmarried.
The last of these four direct descendants was a niece named after Elise Kinkead. This second Elise Kinkead died in 1987 at the age of 93. In disposing of her property, Miss Elise Kinkead willed Maple Grove to the St. Simeon Foundation. Southwood was donated to the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery and demolished in 1989.
The Journals of Elise Kinkead
Catherine Albanese and Celia Serotsky, two members of the Maple Grove Restoration Committee, have been perusing the diaries of Elise Kinkead, which are stored at the Dutchess County Historical Society. Elise was the daughter of Edith Boyd Hamilton and Henry Pindell Kinkead who resided at Southwood, located where the Rural Cemetery is now on Route Nine. Elise was the last surviving member of the Kinkead family and used Maple Grove for teas and parties in her adult life. Elise's diary entries begin in 1910 when she was just sixteen years old, and have been immensely interesting and enlightening. They are a window into life as it was in Poughkeepsie a hundred years ago through the eyes of a teenager.
There have been interesting revelations such as the fact that the Kinkeads were related to William Clark, the explorer of Lewis and Clark fame and a reference to "T. Roosevelt." What has been the most interesting, however, to both Catherine and Celia, is that the thinking of a teenager a hundred years ago - her likes, her dislikes, her gossipy notes - are not much different from a teenager in 2010. Catherine and Celia are reading through the diaries and taking notes on the most interesting items as they relate to Southwood and Maple Grove.
In 1985, an arsonist set a fire in the maid's quarters and attic stairway. Because of a defective hydrant and the enormous difficulty of fighting a professionally set fire, the south wing of Maple Grove was gutted.
Through the brave efforts of caretaker Stephen Rendes, who repeatedly entered the house during the fire, many of the Maple Grove furnishings were saved.
Elise Kinkead, then in feeble health and living at Southwood, was told of the fire, but never saw its devastating consequences. Still refusing to sell the property, Miss Kindead ordered that the south wing receive basic stabilizing of its roof, walls, floors and windows.
This act allowed the mansion to retain its original "footprint" and will eventually make possible the conversion of the south wing into a service area containing modern mechanical systems.
Today, the Saint Simeon Foundation and the Maple Grove Restoration Committee are working to find a new use for Maple Grove and raise the funds needed for its restoration.