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June 1, 2013

Samuel Morse's telegraph plans perfected in Cherry Valley

In late May of 1988, Cherry Valley received some welcomed news that the village had been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A most fitting designation, considering its history dates back to 1740 and all that happened here during the Revolutionary War, for starters.

Communications technology of 1988 could have provided the news in its latest advance, the fax machine, but the village instead got a letter from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Cherry Valley was no stranger in its supporting role of speeding up forms of communications technology. Some of that history dates back to the 1830s, when Samuel F.B. Morse came here on a visit to work on perfecting his invention, the telegraph, at what is today’s Morse House on Montgomery Street.

The Morse family dates back to after the Revolutionary War when James and Mary Morse came to Cherry Valley to settle around 1814. They purchased what was called the Ripley cottage and built additions to it over the years. Their sons, Oliver and Francis, were subsequent owners.

Samuel Finley Breese Morse, while born in Charlestown, Mass., was a cousin to Oliver and Francis, and was a frequent visitor to the relatives in Cherry Valley.

Young Samuel wasn’t really an inventor from the beginning, as he graduated from Yale College in 1810, having received instruction in religious philosophy, mathematics and science of horses. He supported himself by painting.

Morse’s work attracted the eye of noted artist Washington Allston, which led to the three-year stay of studying painting in Europe. This led to plenty of commissioned work, such as portraits of Presidents John Adams and James Madison, among other well-known people of the time.

On visits to Cherry Valley, Morse did some painting, including portraits of the Cooper family in Cooperstown. While in Europe, Morse had become friends with James Fenimore Cooper.

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