State parks centennial Signature Events conclude at Arbor Lodge

Julie Davis
Nebraska City News-Press

The third and final Signature Event of the centennial celebration of the Nebraska state parks system took place Friday, Oct. 1 through Sunday, Oct. 3, at Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, which was the commission’s first state historical park after the Morton family donated in in September 1923.

Friday evening events at Arbor Lodge included a picnic supper on the mansion lawn, the outdoor screening of “Adventures in History: Discovering Nebraska’s State Historical Parks,” and a laser light show.

Saturday and Sunday events included binoculars and bird watching, fish printing, fishing and casting activities at Steinhart Park, mudball panting, turkey calls, wildlife tracks, and living history demonstrations.

The Topeka Westerns staged a 1860s-style vintage baseball game on the grounds on Saturday afternoon.

The Nebraska state parks system was established in 1921 when the State Park Board was created within the Department of Public Works.

That year, the legislature set aside one section of school property in the Pine Ridge, which became Chadron State Park. The park had 10 cabins and a swimming pool by 1930.

The Nebraska City News reported in its Friday, July 20, 1923 edition that a date had been established to transfer ownership of Arbor Lodge to the state of Nebraska: Sept. 27, 1923. The report was taken from Saturday’s Daily Lincoln Star:

“September 27 is the date which has been officially decided upon for the formal transfer of Arbor Lodge at Nebraska City to the state of Nebraska for use as a state park and museum. The time was originally set for August 9, but upon request of Joy Morton the postponement was agreed to so that a number of improvements may be made at the expense of the Morton estate, before turning the property over. It is understood that about $15,000 will be spent in this manner. New fences will be one feature of the improvements.

The report continued: “As members of the Morton family were desirous of having the road paved that leads to Arbor Lodge from the main part of Nebraska City, Governor Bryan, chairman of the state park board, has requested State Engineer Cochran, its secretary, to prepare the necessary plans for federal approval. The Otoe county board has asked that the first federal and state funds due the county for highway construction be used on this piece of road, about three-quarters of a mile in length.

“Governor Bryan will go to Nebraska City for the presentation ceremony and will personally accept the gift on behalf of the state,” the report continued. “The park board, at its meeting last Wednesday, authorized him and Grove Porter, custodian of Arbor Lodge for the Morton family, to formulate the program. The entire personnel of the board will probably attend the function.

“No high hats nor long-tailed coats will be worn at the turnover ceremonial, as the purpose is to conduct it with the democratic simplicity which was one of the late J. Sterling Morton’s chief of characteristics.

“The state park board will defer the selection of a caretaker for the property until after it is taken over, but in the meantime Governor Bryan and Secretary Howard have been authorized to receive applications and investigate the qualifications of those who seek the position. A man and his wife are both needed for the duties to be performed. There is a house on the grounds of Arbor Lodge for the caretaker’s occupancy,” the report concluded.

The Friday, Sept. 28, 1923, front page of the Nebraska City News featured a story headlined “GALA DAY FOR NEBRASKA CITY” “EYES OF COUNTRY ON “TOWN THAT GAVE THE WORLD A GREAT IDEA”--THOUSTANDS ATTEND TRANSFER EXERCISES” “Arbor Lodge and Morton Park Become Property of State of Nebraska--Pageant Showing Changes of “Then and Now” Feature of Morning Program.”

Thousands of people attended festivities throughout the day, the paper reported, from the three-division parade down Central Avenue in the morning to the official transfer ceremony that afternoon, an event that featured speeches by the governor, senators, congressmen, and members of the Morton family.

Other events connected with the transfer ceremony included a tree-planting by Joy Morton, Indian songs and dances by the Kickapoo, a historical playlet at the high school, and a free dance at Eagle Hall.

Laser Spectacles provided the laser light show Friday night, Oct. 1, at Arbor Lodge.