By David L. Bristow, Editor
Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City features a small house that became a 52-room mansion. It belonged to Arbor Day founder J. Sterling Morton and later to his son Joy, the founder of Morton Salt.
When was Arbor Lodge built? That’s complicated. It began as a two-room house in 1855. During the elder Morton’s lifetime, the house was remodeled seven times, evolving in style as it grew in size. After Morton’s death, a major addition by Joy more than doubled its size and further altered its appearance. The Morton family donated the mansion to the state in 1923; it is open for tours and filled with authentic furnishings and artifacts.
History Nebraska curator Gail DeBuse Potter told the story of Arbor Lodge’s evolution in the Summer 1992 issue of Nebraska History Magazine. This series of photos from History Nebraska’s collections tells that story in brief.
The original house had already grown by the time of this 1864 photo, which shows an addition to the rear. Julius and Caroline Morton didn’t yet have children when the house was first built. From the start, they planned to expand both the house and the family. RG2993-1-3
A major remodel in 1874 added an elaborate porch and three Gothic-style dormers to the front of house. Gothic Revival style was rare in Nebraska. In 1875 the Mortons began calling their home “Arbor Lodge.” A year later they added indoor plumbing. RG2993-414
This 1880 side view shows the front section (on the left) expanded to two full stories with an Italianate façade. RG2993-4-2
An 1884-85 remodel expanded the house’s rear portion to a full two stories. RG2993-4-7
In the early twentieth century, Arbor Lodge adopted yet another architectural style, Neo-Classical Revival. After his father died in 1902, Joy Morton added a three-story “new house” to the front and had the old house stuccoed. Joy’s family used the mansion as a summer home. It is shown in 1914. RG22352-4-21.
This article first appeared in the April 2021 issue of NEBRASKAland.