|Great Places | Nebraska City, Nebraska
Thanks to the efforts of a 19th-century conservationist, Nebraska City is an oasis of trees in a state typified by prairieland.
Birthplace of Arbor Day | Nebraska City, NE:
If there were a patron saint of log homes, it would probably be J. Sterling Morton, who made his home in the small town of Nebraska City, Nebraska, but left his mark on the world as the founder of Arbor Day. After all, without the annual planting of trees that Arbor Day promotes, there would likely be far fewer logs to go around.
Morton, a native of the heavy forests of Michigan, came to the Nebraska Territory in 1854. Despite the beauty of the prairie, he and his wife missed trees, and made great efforts to plant trees that would survive on the prairie, including an apple orchard. Morton eventually encouraged the state legislature to establish Arbor Day as an official state holiday.
Today, the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park and Arboretum is a 72-acre monument to trees and Morton’s work. In addition to 270 varieties of trees and shrubs, the park also boasts a beautiful formal rose garden.
It’s not exactly the first image that comes to mind when someone mentions Nebraska. “With all of the rolling hills and the pretty trees here, people just don’t think of this as Nebraska,” says Larry Falk, who moved to Nebraska City about 15 years ago from Minnesota. He and his wife were driving through the area on vacation and fell in love with it.
“The people here are just top notch,” adds his friend Ivan Boerner, who has lived in Nebraska all of his life and now plays in a community band and sings in a barbershop quartet.
The area’s affinity for all things arbor-related doesn’t stop with the Arbor Lodge. Across the road, you’ll find the 235-acre Arbor Day Farm, a working tree farm and apple orchard. It’s one of three orchards in Nebraska City and includes 160 varieties of apples, plus a preservation orchard dedicated to bringing back varieties that are no longer available on the commercial market.
Anything else you might want to know about apples can be found at the Apple House, where you can watch workers clean and sort apples, as well as press cider and applesauce.
Need further proof of just how beloved apples and trees are in this southeastern corner of Nebraska? Head to the Applejack Festival on the third weekend of September or the Arbor Day Festival on the last weekend in April. You needn’t be there during festival time, though, to appreciate the natural beauty that the arbors bring to this part of the country.
Resources for Nebraska City, NE:
Tourism: Nebraska City Tourism | Or call 800-514-9113