You may have never heard the name Gene Stratton Porter, but if you had lived 100 years ago, that would not be so. Born in 1863, Gene was one of America’s most popular novelists and is still considered by many to be Indiana’s most famous female author.
Her most famous books, Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost, both depict simpler times and feature characters who enjoy and learn from nature – much like Stratton Porter herself.
Happily, Gene’s two Indiana homes are still open to tourists. Our family has visited Limberlost State Historic Site, which is the house she and her husband built after their marriage.
The home is a large cabin-like structure built of massive logs. The interior is full of original furnishings, the significance of which is described in loving detail by tour guides. Items of note in the home are a large collection of moths which Gene had collected, and a conservatory with plenty of windows to observe birds and other creatures outside.
This home was built near the Limberlost Swamp, so named because there was a legend of a man, “Ole Limber Jim”, who wandered into the 13,000 acre swamp and never returned. The cabin was named in tribute to this swamp, which Gene loved to explore.
Gene and her husband, Charles Porter, had a daughter, Jeanette. Jeanette’s small room can be viewed, complete with her dolls and a door leading to the large porch wrapping around the house. My girls were enchanted by it, and I feel sure it was a magical place for Jeanette.
Gene was distressed when she learned that the swamp was scheduled to be drained. She worried about what would happen to the birds and insects that depended on the swamp for their habitat. She needed a new place to live, and found it about 80 miles northwest in Rome City.
The family had a home built there in 1913, and called it Wildflower Woods. This home was also made of logs and is rustic, but it was quite a bit larger than the Limberlost House, probably because by this time Gene was becoming more famous and her books were doing well. The house is full of things special to Gene. As a child, she loved seeing Indians run through the yard of her family home, and inside the entrance to Wildflower Woods she placed an “Indian Torch” light at the base of the stair railing.
The house features built-in cabinets throughout which feature Charles Porter’s knick-knacks from his world travels.
A highlight of the house is the living room fireplace. It features stones from all the states, and the stones above the center are in the shape of Gene’s favorite creature, the moth. A revolutionary soldier can be seen formed from stones, and other pictures as well.
The home features its own dark room (Gene also loved to take photographs) and had 7 bedrooms (contrasted to Limberlost’s 2).
In 1920, the family moved to California, both because of the perceived health benefits and because several of Gene’s books were being made into films. There they had a spectacular, castle-like home built. Sadly, before they moved in, Gene was killed in a car accident in 1924.
In 1999, Gene and Jeanette’s bodies were returned from California back to Wildflower Woods, where they rest today, in a wooded setting reminiscent of the site of Gene’s novels.
Our family enjoyed visiting both sites. The homes’ websites can be viewed at the links listed, and from there you can find admission rates and hours. We were impressed with the enthusiasm of the guides at both sites.