'Leaders & Legacies' continues with Joy Morton, founder of The Morton Arboretum
"Leaders & Legacies: Stories of Local Impact" is an ongoing series brought to you in partnership by the Daily Herald and the Legacy Society of the DuPage Foundation. It highlights the inspiring stories of local individuals, families, and businesses that have made or are making a lasting impact for our community through their generosity and leadership.
The series continues with Joy Morton (1855-1934).
Did you know that The Morton Arboretum, one of our county's most popular attractions, was once the private estate of Joy Morton?
You may recognize the Morton name from your salt shaker, but the Chicago businessman also founded what became known as The Morton Arboretum on Dec. 14, 1922.
Joy was born in Detroit, Michigan, and raised in Nebraska City, Nebraska. He was the oldest of four sons and his name was a tribute to his mother, Caroline Joy French, and her ancestors.
Joy's parents instilled in him a love of gardening, trees, and horticulture. A love of nature was part of the inescapable DNA of the Morton family as evidenced by their motto, "Plant Trees."
His father, Julius Sterling Morton, served as the Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland in the 1890s and was the founder of Arbor Day, a day for planting and calling attention to trees.
It should come as no surprise that Joy's childhood home in Nebraska was known as Arbor Lodge. Joy ultimately donated the family mansion and the surrounding land to the state of Nebraska in 1923. It's now known as Arbor Lodge State Historical Park.
It was salt that made Joy Morton a wealthy man, capable of leaving a magnificent legacy like The Morton Arboretum for the good of our community and countless visitors throughout the decades.
Joy had followed his younger brothers to Chicago where he held a variety of jobs before entering into a partnership with a salt distributor by the name of Ezra Wheeler in 1879. After Wheeler's passing in 1886, Joy acquired a majority interest in the business and, in 1910, it was incorporated and renamed the Morton Salt Company.
That same year, Joy built a country estate overlooking the East Branch of the DuPage River in Lisle, 25 miles west of Chicago.
Joy's residence, named Thornhill, was designed by the renowned architect Jarvis Hunt, whose other local works include the clubhouse at the Chicago Golf Club in Wheaton and the House of Seven Gables, which was saved from the wrecking ball in 2017.
Joy Morton passed away in 1934 from heart failure at age 78 and his home ultimately became the property of The Morton Arboretum after Joy's second wife, Margaret Gray Morton, passed away in 1940.
The mansion could not be adapted to suit the needs of an educational center and was torn down in 1941 to make room for the Thornhill Education Center. The mansion's original library was preserved and can be found within the Thornhill Education Center.
With his first wife, Carrie, Joy Morton had two children, Jean and Sterling.
Jean and her husband, Joseph Cudahy, did not have children, but Sterling had three daughters, two of whom died as young girls.
Joy's granddaughter, Suzette Morton Davidson, served on The Morton Arboretum board for almost four decades, and served as chair after her father, Sterling Morton, passed away in 1961. The art connoisseur and collector died in 1996 at age 84, survived by her three children and numerous grandchildren.
According to Joy's biographer, James Ballowe, Joy's betterment of the world extended beyond trees and included civic affairs. Joy worked alongside renowned architect and urban designer Daniel Burnham and other notable Chicago businessmen in the development of the visionary Plan of Chicago in 1909.
The influential plan created a template to make Chicago beautiful by taking advantage of its natural resources and encouraged the creation of monumental buildings.
Joy even played a part in choosing the design for the iconic Tribune Tower.
Ballowe spent six years researching the life and impact of Joy Morton and wrote the 2009 biography "A Man of Salt and Trees: The Life of Joy Morton," which is available at The Morton Arboretum gift shop. The book is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in learning more about this incredible man.
Ballowe, a professor emeritus of English at Bradley University, was kind enough to grant permission for his poem about Joy Morton to be published as part of this story:
A path winds through the spruce trees and undergrowth at the Spruce Plot at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle.
- Courtesy of The Morton Arboretum
Glacier-contoured, its heart a river's branch,
rest and succor for the Potawatomie,
then the land of Yackley, Hatch, and Puffer,
their fattening cattle grazing among oaks,
their lime-fed fields of wheat and corn,
their remnants of native timber,
to the idea -- the thought of the meaning of trees,
borne of our dependence on the independence of trees,
the thought of trees shared in awe and pleasure,
the importance of trees being in this place,
beside the Joy Path, Lake Marmo,
the river's edge, the trees of Europe and Asia,
the trees of Illinois --
of elm penciled against a winter's sky,
of verdant poplar arrayed in summer's silver,
of scent of fir, linden, flowering crab,
of sough of pine bough, rustle of beech,
of affirmation of thorn, of the cherry's blossoming,
of the majesty of maple, hickory, sycamore, and oak,
and of the integrity of the ginkgo, of the idea defined.
Millions of people from around the world have experienced the beauty of The Morton Arboretum thanks to the vision and generosity of Joy Morton. The Morton Arboretum continues to rely on the philanthropic support of donors and members to maintain important tree collections and beautiful natural landscapes, offer nature-based learning for all ages, and pursue its tree-focused mission as a world-renowned leader in tree science and conservation.
It's hard to imagine what could top Danish artist Thomas Dambo's incredible "Troll Hunt" experience that left The Morton Arboretum earlier this year. But visitors won't be disappointed by the new "Human+Nature" exhibit, featuring South African artist Daniel Popper and his five exclusive sculptures for The Morton Arboretum. "Awe" and "wonder" are two words used to describe the 15- to 26-foot-tall sculptures that are located across The Morton Arboretum's outdoor museum making it the artist's largest exhibition anywhere in the world.
Philanthropy is essential to preserving the Arboretum's 1,700 acres, where trees and nature provide joy and rejuvenate the spirit for all who visit. DuPage County will forever be indebted to the generosity of Joy Morton for making this slice of paradise available for all to enjoy.
• The Leaders & Legacies series is brought to you by the Legacy Society of DuPage Foundation in partnership with the Daily Herald. Suggestions for future stories can be sent to Alice Wood, DuPage Foundation director of gift planning, at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are interested in learning more about how you can make an impact or create a legacy for your community or favorite causes, call (630) 665-5556 or visit dupagefoundation.org.
Leaders & LegaciesA special thanks to Tari Marshall, head of public relations and social media at The Morton Arboretum, for her invaluable assistance with this story. And a special thanks to James Ballowe for his dedication to sharing the legacy of Joy Morton and for his contribution to this article.
• The Morton Arboretum is located at 4100 Route 53 in Lisle, Illinois. Information about membership and hours is available at mortonarb.org or by calling (630) 968-0074.