The stately, 52-room mansion was completed in 1903 by Joy Morton, oldest son of J. Sterling and Caroline Morton. The Mortons' first home in Nebraska, a log cabin at Bellevue, was built on their arrival in December 1854. Sometime between 1855 and 1858, Morton moved to Nebraska City and built a frame home, which was remodeled periodically. After his father died in 1902, Joy inherited the frame house and further remodeled and enlarged it as Arbor Lodge to its present size and Neo-colonial appearance.
For 20 years, Joy and his family used the lodge as a summer retreat. In 1923 he donated it to the State of Nebraska to be preserved as a monument to his parents. J. Sterling Morton and his wife Caroline were nature lovers, and it isn't surprising that soon after completing their first home on a treeless tract west of Nebraska City that they set to work adorning their surroundings with trees, shrubs, and an orchard. While Morton's contributions to politics, journalism, and industry were not inconsiderable, he is known to the world primarily as the founder of Arbor Day.