Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Arbor Lodge – Nebraska City NE

Our next bit of exploration in Nebraska City was focused on a home that is listed in the “National Geographic Guide to America’s Great Houses”.  That publication lists 150 outstanding mansions/homes across the country that are open to the public…

OK…what does this sign on the side of a building in Nebraska City have to do with a mansion?  It’s all in the name!  We’ve all heard about Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate, the Hearst Castle, Rockefeller’s estate, George Washington’s Mount Vernon and Jefferson’s home at Monticello.  Big money is needed to build mansions and large estates…and apparently salt was a profitable business to get into.

This is Arbor Lodge.  Between 1902 and 1905, Joy Morton, founder of the Morton Salt Company dedicated himself to expand his parent’s comparatively modest home in Nebraska City.  It was transformed into this huge, 52-room neoclassical mansion.  You might notice a resemblance to another famous US home…The White House in Washington D.C. 

Joy Morton’s parents, Julius (J.) Sterling and Caroline Morton moved here from Detroit in 1855.  When it was built, their original 4-room home was said to be the only wood frame house between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains.  That lack of forests on the plains led to Sterling’s life-long focus on the value and planting of trees.  Sterling’s efforts led to the creation of Arbor Day.  Back in 1885, the state of Nebraska made Sterling’s birthday, April 22, a legal holiday.   

J. Sterling’s study/library is warm and definitely masculine.

Arbor Lodge isn’t as luxuriously furnished as one might expect.  It’s warm and comfortable, at least for a 53-room mansion, but Joy Morton kept many of the older, simpler 19th Century furnishings as reminders of his parents.  Given the fact that he’d expanded the house around his parent’s original home, the fact that he kept many of their furnishing isn’t a surprise.  

The house uses a lot of dark wood with green, red and soft yellows…all in keeping with Sterling Morton’s love of the forest and trees in general.  In the first year that Arbor Day was celebrated anywhere in the USA, over 1,000,000 trees were planted in Nebraska!


·       William Jennings Bryant and Grover Cleveland both stayed at this home.
·       J. Sterling Morton served as President Grover Cleveland's Secretary of Agriculture.

Arbor Lodge is fully furnished with Morton family artifacts, furniture, books and artwork. 

The mansion is centerpiece of Nebraska’s 72-acre Arbor Lodge State Historical Park.  The park also includes an arboretum, Italian terraced garden, a log cabin, hiking trails, and a carriage house.  Of course there are trees everywhere in the park.  Laurie and I enjoyed that fact that many trees had plaques mounted on them that told us what species they were…

The Park is located at 2600 Arbor Avenue in Nebraska City.  Phone: 402-873-7222.  Website:

J. Sterling Morton became the editor of the local newspaper, “the Nebraska City News”.  He served briefly in the Nebraska Territorial House of Representatives (1855–1856).  He was appointed Secretary of Nebraska Territory by President James Buchanan on July 12, 1858, a position he held until 1861.  Sterling also served as Acting Governor of Nebraska for a brief period from December 5, 1858, to May 2, 1859.

I failed to keep a brochure which might have been helpful in describing the various rooms in the house.  I ‘assumed’ that I’d be able to find some detail on line…so much for assumptions!

The history of Arbor Lodge, beginning with the arrival of J. Sterling and Caroline at Nebraska City through its various stages of development and expansion is quite interesting.  The house morphed from a simple little house to the mansion it is now and the following publication not only tells the story, it shows several photos of the house over the years.

With its 52 rooms, our tour of Arbor Lodge took a little while.  The park is free but it costs $7.00 for adults and $4.00 for older children to tour the home.  You are on your own for the tour.  Visitors wander from room to room looking, photographing and exploring as long as they want. 

The interior of the home is well maintained but a bit of maintenance is due on the exterior.  The gardens also needed some attention.  Given state budgets these days, I’m sure that the cost of maintaining a property like this is a challenge…

This single lane bowling alley is located in the basement of Arbor Lodge.
J. Sterling and Caroline’s son, Joy Morton, (September 27, 1855 – May 9, 1934), was the one who founded the Morton Salt Company as well as the famous Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois.

At 15, Joy Morton began to manage the family farm and estate.  He also took a job at the local bank. At age 18, he fell ill with spinal meningitis.  Needing physical exercise and an outdoor environment for full recovery, he farmed his own land for two years.  Later, he worked for railroads in Omaha, Nebraska and Aurora, Illinois before joining a Chicago salt distribution company in 1880.  By 1886 he owned the firm, naming it Joy Morton and Company, and branched out into the distribution and processing of agricultural products in Nebraska and Illinois.  In 1910 he incorporated his salt firm as the Morton Salt Company.


·       Among Morton’s brands are Morton Salt and Argo Starch.  Morton also supported the development of the teletype and formed the Morkrum Company with the inventor Howard Krum.  The company was later renamed Morkrum-Kleinschmidt and then Teletype Corporation.  It was sold to American Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1930 for $30,000,000. (over $2,000,000,000 in today’s dollars)

Flowers were everywhere around Arbor Lodge even though some species were past their prime.  Laurie and I took a lot of flower photos... 

In 1922, Joy Morton established The Morton Arboretum on 178 acres of land adjacent to his estate in Lisle, Illinois.  Today, The Morton Arboretum has grown to 1,700 acres.  The Morton Arboretum  displays woody plants that grow in temperate zones around the world.
After his father's death in the early 1900's, Joy hired an architect to redesign and enlarge Arbor Lodge into the 52-room mansion that it is today.  For many years he used it as his family's summer home.  After he began his own arboretum in Illinois, Morton honored his father by giving Arbor Lodge, the family estate known as the birthplace of Arbor Day, to the State of Nebraska as its first state park.

This beautiful carriage house is located behind the Lodge itself… It contains a number of early carriages and coaches as well as other items related to early transportation in Nebraska.  The first carriage above is a Brougham and the second is just what it looks like…a stage coach.


·       A brougham, (pronounced "broom" or "brohm") was a light, four-wheeled horse-drawn carriage.  It was named after Scottish jurist Lord Brougham, who had one built to his specification by London coachbuilder Robinson and Cook ca. 1838.  One hallmark of a brougham carriage is the installation of a front window so passengers could see where they were going…

J. Sterling Morton imported trees from all over the world in order to test their suitability to create windbreaks and otherwise break up the monotony of the Great Plains.  Arbor Lodge is surrounded by 270 varieties of trees and shrubs.  These include apple orchards with many varieties of apple trees, plus acres of oaks, maples, chestnuts, and pines…including at least 10 state-champion trees.


·       The small Spanish village of Villanueva de la Sierra is the town where??? was held the first Arbor Day around the world, an initiative launched in 1805, by the local priest with the enthusiastic support of the entire population.

·       Arbor Day was popularized globally via publicity and presentation by American conservationists.  Today, it is celebrated around the world on different dates by many nations in Africa, South America, Central America, Asia, Africa and Europe.

That’s all for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by to see what we’ve been up to!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. Having trouble leaving comment so will try again. Great post, Dave! Interesting with the Morton family, the beautiful home and all that money! Morton Arboretum is gorgeous, our younger son and family lived in Lisle. I'm playing catch-up after being in MI. Take care

  2. I had no idea about the Morton family or their mansion. The carriages are cool.