Sandra Scott Travels: Arbor Day Has Its Roots In Adams, NY

Last week I asked: Where was the man responsible for Arbor Day born?

In Adams, NY.

Portrait of J. Sterling Morton
Portrait of J. Sterling Morton

I am always amazed at the small world connections I find when I am traveling.

Recently, John and I toured the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City, Nebraska, and we were surprised to learn that the founder of Arbor Day, J. Sterling Morton, was born in Adams on April 22, 1832.

Adams has been designated The Arbor Day Village and celebrates Arbor Day yearly with a festive on Morton’s birthday which is also Arbor Day.

J. Sterling Morton married Caroline Joy French and on their honeymoon staked a claim on land near present-day Nebraska City.

According to our guided tour, the Mortons built a four-room log house on their 160-acre land and when Caroline looked out over the grass-covered prairie she yearned for trees.

Over the years house grew and so did the trees they planted.

The original house became the beautiful 52-room mansion that resembles the White House with the last alterations made in 1902 by the Morton’s oldest son, Joy, the founder of Morton Salt Company.

Morton's White House
Morton’s White House

Joy Morton devised a method of preparing salt whereby “When it rains it pours.”

During his lifetime, J. Sterling Morton held many important positions including Nebraska Territorial House of Representative, Secretary of the Nebraska Territory under President James Buchanan, Acting Governor of Nebraska, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under President Cleveland.

But, without a doubt, his most lasting contribution was the founding of Arbor Day.

Morton was often away so it was his wife who designed the gardens, planted the first trees, and managed the family farm.

However, J. Sterling Morton was a strong advocate of the importance of planting trees and in 1872 he proposed that the State of Nebraska set aside a day for tree planting.

The first Arbor Day was held on April 10, 1872, with an estimated one million trees planted that day.

Today many countries celebrate a similar holiday but the day varies according to climate.

J. Sterling Morton said, “Other holidays repose on the past, Arbor Day proposes on the future.”

Morton's desk with images of family
Morton’s desk with images of family

The house tour pointed out another New York State connection for there was Stickley furniture in the reception room.

The original four rooms are part of the house to which a beautiful, sweeping staircase was added.

The ‘green’ motif starts with the green carpet and follows to the grapevine Tiffany lights to the stained glass windows in the dining room.

Many of the items in the house belonged to the Mortons including the two of Edison’s early phonographs.

Not to miss is the Brunswick bowling alley on the lowest level.

 A Surrey with a fringe
A Surrey with a fringe

A collection of antique carriages and wagons are on display in the Carriage House including a surrey with a fringe on top.

The grounds are beautifully landscaped with an Italian Terraced Garden and half-mile tree trail with interpretive signs along the way.

The Pine Grove has a variety of pine but J. Sterling Morton planted white pine in 1891 to prove to Governor Furnace that white pine would grow in Nebraska.

I would love to visit in the spring to walk the Lilac Trail when all 200 varieties of lilacs from around the world are in bloom.

Located near the entrance to the Lilac Trail are four Osage Orange Trees thought to be the oldest trees in the arboretum.

An Osage orange
An Osage orange

The trees not only created a beautiful setting for the house but served as a wind break for the never-ending winds that sweep across the prairie.

Travel Trivia Tease™: What is poutine?

Look for the answer next week.

Sandra and her husband, John, have been exploring the world for decades, always on the lookout for something new and unique to experience. We have sailed down the Nile for a week on a felucca, stayed with the Pesch Indians in La Mosquitia, visited schools in a variety of countries, and — to add balance to our life — stayed at some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Let the fun continue!

1 Comment

  1. thank you so much for sharing this. My grandmother’s sister Lina Preston Owsley was the wife of younger Sterling Morton and our families quite close and now they are gone but fondly remembered

Comments are closed.