1832-1902 | Artist: Robert Wadsworth Grafton (1876-1936)
Impact & Accomplishments
Born in Adams, New York, and raised in Monroe, Michigan, Julius Sterling Morton received his bachelor of arts degree from Union College in Schenectady, New York, then staked a land claim in Nebraska Territory in 1854. There, he entered the family trade of newspaper publishing by founding the Nebraska City News. Simultaneously, Morton entered politics as a conservative Democrat, first as a territorial legislator, then as territorial secretary, and later as acting governor of Nebraska Territory.
When political views shifted during the Civil War, Morton began instead to focus on forestation and agricultural initiatives on his Nebraska City farm. President of the state board of agriculture and member of the horticulture society, Morton advocated conservation programs and the planting of trees on the prairie. In 1872, the Nebraska legislature adopted his resolution to create Arbor Day. More than one million trees were planted on that first designated day, now celebrated throughout the world.
In 1893, J. Sterling Morton was appointed the U. S. Secretary of Agriculture by President Grover Cleveland—the first man west of the Missouri to serve in a cabinet post. Morton tightened the budget while expanding the programs of the Department of Agriculture. He supported scientific studies of grasses, soils, and crop production; he looked to extend U. S. agricultural products into foreign markets; and he improved the Weather Bureau. He was president of the American Forestry Association at that time, as well. In 1897, Morton launched a project to publish Nebraska’s history and he founded the weekly political journal, The Conservative, but his lasting legacy is as one of the nation’s early conservationists. Morton was added to the National Agricultural Hall of Fame in 1987.
Did You Know?
The family home became the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park and Arboretum is a mansion and arboretum which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1969. The 52-room neo-colonial house began in 1855 for J. Sterling Morton. The house was originally a modest 4-room frame structure on 160 acres. It was extended several times, most recently in 1903, and in later years served as the summer home for his son Joy Morton, founder of Morton Salt Company. The mansion features Victorian and Empire furnishings, many of which were owned by the Mortons. Its sun parlor contains a fine Tiffany skylight with grape trellis design.
Once a four-room home on a treeless prairie, Arbor Lodge is today a 52-room mansion surrounded by hundreds of trees, flowers, and shrubs.
Trees were a central interest of J. Sterling Morton. He imported trees from all over the country in order to test their suitability to create windbreaks and otherwise break up the monotony of the great plains. The house is surrounded by 270 varieties of trees and shrubs, including gardens, apple orchards, and acres of oaks, maples, chestnuts, and pines, including at least 10 state-champion trees. Specimen trees are typically labeled with engraved bronze plates. Over the years, many of Arbor Lodge's apple orchards were demolished, but in the 1990s their restoration began with plantings of winesaps, golden delicious, red delicious, jonathans, and jonadels.
Video credit: Nebraska Game and Parks Commission