Becoming Arbor Lodge

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.

Read more about Morton’s career, and about his racial views.

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

Robert Ball Anderson’s journey “from slavery to affluence”

Robert Ball Anderson’s journey “from slavery to affluence”

Marker Monday: The Savidge Brothers, Aviation Pioneers

Marker Monday: The Savidge Brothers, Aviation Pioneers

No Father’s Day for Nebraska in 1915

No Father’s Day for Nebraska in 1915

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.