Bruce Owen

I’m honored to represent my family here today as we dedicate a mural that honors the legacy of my great-grandparents, Arthur and Lizzie Nelson, and my grandparents, Frank and Dorothy Nelson, and all the other Nelsons who played such an important role in the development of Route 66 through Lebanon.

I’d like to read a short article about the Nelson family that appeared in a Lebanon newspaper in 1926:

“Of the thousands on thousands of travelers who have pursued the concrete thread between Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, to Los Angles, probably more of them hold in memory “Nelsonville,” Col. Arthur T. Nelson’s cottages, artistic filling station, the Top o’ the Ozarks Inn, the flowers and trees and beautiful surroundings than remember any other place on the great highway. “The Main Street of America.” Associated with Col. Nelson in this extensive enterprise is his son, F.R. Nelson, a business manager of outstanding capability.

“The very attractiveness of the spot, with its quantities of flowers, privet hedge, ornamental planting of the grounds, the courtesies extended and accommodations to be had, fixes the place so firmly in mind that no visitor ever forgets it. Tourists, on return trips, have been known to extend their day’s journey 100 miles in order to make the Nelson camp ground for the night.

“The Nelson property is a forty-acre tract, lying on both sides of Highway 66. The highway, first forty feet, then sixty feet, now eighty feet wide, cuts directly through the Nelson tract. In 1926, after giving the State the right-of-way through his land, Col. Nelson began the establishing of what has grown into a village in itself, with filling station, the inn, cottages for tourists, each cottage distinguished by the name of a State, equipped with beds and facilities for cooking, toilet accommodations, restrooms – everything for the comfort and convenience of travelers.

“The grounds are this year to be further beautified under the direction of Mr. H. Brewster, landscape artist for the State Highway department. As an experiment, Col. Nelson this year has planted on ground bordering the highway paper shell pecans, Japanese persimmons, orange quinces, celestial figs and Texas umbrella trees. He anticipates literally sitting under his own vine and fig tree.

“Col. Nelson owns over 100 acres of land within the City Limits, with 160 acres adjoining the City, 100 acres of which are in orchard. Along the highway is his fine Stark’s Delicious apple orchard. He has seven acres in young orchard. On the place are peaches, pears, plums, grapes, ten varieties of apples so that fruit will be ripening all through the season.

The two handsome Nelson homes add to the attractiveness of the surrounding. Col. Nelson’s new residence of American Colonial model, built of native stone, is one of the handsomest houses in the State and the F.R. Nelson residence, adjoining, of Dutch Colonial style, is charming in every particular.

“Col. Arthur T. Nelson is as well known throughout Missouri and throughout the United States as any Missouri citizen. He has been a member of the State Board of Agriculture for twenty-nine years, serving under eight Missouri governors. He has served as president and vice president of the board. He was a member of the First State Fair board, and has served on that board twenty-nine years. He was State Marketing Commissioner five years and is a life member of the State Horticultural Society, serving for five years in an official capacity.

“He was Grand Commander of the Missouri Knights Templar in 1921-22, and numbers on his list of friends more members of the Knights Templar than almost any other member in the State.

“His acquaintance is so extensive that scarcely a day passes that some traveler from some point in the United States – East, West, North or South – does not give him the high sign and greeting, recalling some former time and place where he and Col. Nelson foregathered, smoked the pipe of peace, trod the burning sands, or viewed the landscape o’er, somewhere in America.”

We’re standing today on the site of my great-grandfather’s orchard. And two of his most-famous projects were completed after this article appeared: the Nelson Tavern, also called the Nelson Hotel, opened in 1931, and Nelson’s Dream Village, which is depicted in the mural you are about to see, opened in 1935. The fountain that you see to my left is a recreation of the fountain at Nelson’s Dream Village.

Now it’s time for the unveiling.

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