Friday, September 13, 2013

Going Back In Time: Gene Stratton Porter Historical Site

Last weekend my hubby and I took a relaxing trip to a State Historic Site, just a few miles from our hometown. We had heard about the Gene Stratton Porter home and nature gardens, but until we visited it ourselves, had not realized how influential she had been in her day, at the turn of the century. 

Today, I am sharing my pictures from our trip and tour of the property. (A few pictures are from the internet and their sources listed.) I'm posting an article, describing Mrs. Porter, who lived there and her life story. It was written by an author who told it with great detail and creativity.

Prolific Author Fondly Remembered
An avid gardener and naturalist, author Gene Stratton-Porter created wonderfully lush woodlands gardens that survives to this day.  Her "Cabin in the Woods," in reality a large, rambling house that overlooks Sylvan Lake near Rome City, Ind. Even by Hollywood standards, it might be considered over the top. 

A young girl from the small town of Wabash, Ind., is injured in a fall and, while recuperating, visits a Chautauqua in northwest Indiana where she meets an older man who is a successful pharmacist. 
Source: Geneva Grace Stratton, Charles Porter 


After their marriage, the two discover oil on their property, becoming even wealthier. Then, this woman, who never finished high school, begins writing books. The second one becomes a best-seller and within 22 years, Gene Stratton-Porter writes 10 more novels, seven books on nature studies, several children's books, poetry and numerous magazine articles.

Her books are translated into several languages, including Finnish and Swedish and many are made into movies. She travels to Hollywood from Rome City, Ind., where she, her husband and daughter reside. She starts a film company to produce movies of her books and builds homes in tony Bel Air and on lush Catalina Island. But before she can enjoy all the fruits of her labor, she is killed when her limousine is hit by a trolley car in 1924.

Though it sounds like the makings of a soap opera (and that's without adding that before she turned 12, the girl had lost two siblings and her mother), the story is true. Gene Stratton-Porter is almost forgotten now, but at the turn of the last century, she was one of the most popular novelists in the country and is considered Indiana's most famous female writer.

"Eight of her novels were made into movies 23 times," says Martha Swartzlander, cultural administrator of the 123-acre Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site in Rome City, about 45 minutes northwest of Fort Wayne. Though it is a sleepy burg now, from 1876 to 1906, Rome City was home to a Chautauqua, which attracted thousands nationwide. William Jennings Bryant spoke there twice, the first time in 1899 to a crowd of 5,000. 

Porter's books, with titles such as "A Girl of the Limberlost," "Laddie," "Freckles" and "Michael O'Halloran," were uplifting stories about how nature and determination help people overcome adversity. Though the prose might seem sentimental by today's standards, the books struck an emotional cord when they were published.

Brick pillars flank the entrance to the narrow road leading to what was the Stratton-Porter's Rome City home. It is through these gates, topped with stone owls, that Porter and her family passed as they entered a rural retreat that appealed to Porter's love of nature.
Her "Cabin at Wildflower Woods," a large two-story cedar log home, was anything but rustic. (left click on any pictures to enlarge)
Entrance to Lakeside(front) of house

Back of house


Situated on the 675-acre Sylvan Lake,  
Front porch view of lake
Side view of lake from porch


Its walls are paneled with highly polished local wild cherry, glass-fronted cabinets hold delicate china and velvet-upholstered chairs create a cozy ambiance.

Entry and stairs to second floor
Dining Room

The three fireplaces on the first floor are made with unique materials, one of polished English brick, another of stone and American Indian artifacts and the other of puddin' stone. 
Parlor fireplace (with photos of Gene, daughter Jeanette, Charles)
(The parlor fireplace, we were told, had stones from 49 different states and was designed by Gene.)

Because the home remained in the family for decades after Stratton-Porter's death and then was bequeathed to the state, much of the furniture is original. 

Indeed, an old wall removed in the kitchen revealed the original wooden icebox, 
and her personal library still is intact.
The Library, where Gene did most of her writing
second view of library
Stratton-Porter was a woman who embraced change. Not content just to be a best-selling novelist and mother, she also took up photography (a relatively new art at that time) and learned to develop her own photos using chemicals from her husband's pharmacy. The first photo she developed was that of her pet parrot. 

A naturalist, Stratton-Porter cataloged much of what she saw in this lush rural area.

She also was an avid gardener, turning an acre of woods into a series of 36 gardens. 

Some floral close-ups

More garden photos - Left click to enlarge
(Stone, surrounding a waterfall and fish pond.)

The original arbor she erected still is standing, covered with wildly twisting vines. 

First impressions of Stratton-Porter form when wandering through her old carriage house, now the visitor's center, where two of the canoes that she loved to paddle on the tranquil lake are displayed.

Here, you see the movie posters based on her books, her photos and her letters, including the correspondence between her and her husband when they were courting. 

A pathway from the carriage house runs through the woods past the potting shed to the family home, 
 Some old, larger trees had graffiti on them
This tree had uniquely shaped roots

A friendly chipmunk stopped to watch us.

Broad front steps lead down to the water's edge. 

Live spring that the Porters used for fresh water
Boardwalk area along the lake
Confusingly, there are two memorials to Stratton Porter in Indiana. The other is her home near the 13,000-acre Limberlost Swamp (which was drained in the early 1900s but is being restored) in Geneva, about two and half hours farther southeast.

  It always was intended that Stratton-Porter would be buried here, but after the car accident, she was interred in Hollywood Cemetery in Los Angeles. When her only child died in the early 1990s, it was decided that mother and daughter would return to Indiana soil. That was accomplished in 1999. 

Stratton-Porter now rests under a beautiful piece of funeral statuary -- that of a graceful woman in a long flowing gown, her head bent in sorrow. 
-- Jane Ammeson is a freelance writer based in southwestern Michigan.

Here is a Youtube short documentary of the Gene Stratton Porter Historic Site.

I hope you enjoyed this photo tour of the Gene Stratton Porter Historic Site!

“Better joy in a cottage than sorrow in a palace” Spanish Proverb

Linking up at these blog hops:


  1. Wow what a beautiful place and such an interesting lady! I am sure you enjoyed your day! Blessings to you and thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Carol, for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment!

  2. What a fantastic place to visit - I am familiar with a couple of her stories - it is quite interesting to learn more about the author, her home, surroundings and history - wonderful, beautiful post - I do appreciate you sharing with Home and Garden Thursday,

    1. It was a fun and interesting day trip. I really didn't know much about her until visiting her home. I had no idea how popular her books were. Thanks for hosting your link-up party, Kathy!

  3. Great Story about Gene Stratton Porter! Sounds like you guys had fun there. Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Oh, we really did, Allie! It was very relaxing and interesting. Though, I love anything historical!Thanks for visiting.

  4. As I started reading your post I kept on thinking, "Why does the name Gene Stratton-Porter" sound so familiar?? Then, when you listed the books that she wrote, I knew! "A Girl of the Limberlost" was one of my favorite books as a young girl. It was my grandmother's book. I loved how everything in the story seemed so "quaint" to me at the time I first read it. The book had such fond memories that last year, I put it on my Nook and re-read it. It seems so far away from today's culture, but put such a smile on my face as I remembered reading it the first time and somehow connecting with my grandmother again, you know?

    Blessings, Joan

    1. What an awesome memory, Joan! You would really enjoy touring her home and gardens...they seem to take one back in time, as well!

  5. Hello Ann,
    I am very late visiting, sorry. I have been away for a family reunion and just got back late yesterday and trying to get caught up.

    What a fascinating lady she was! I enjoyed reading about her and all the photos you have shared. You must have had a fabulous trip. Thank you for sharing this at my HOME.


  6. Better late than never...I just found your wonderful blog. It certainly seems as though you and your husband have a lovely visit to Gene's Cabin at Wildflower Woods in Rome City. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and photos! As a GSP volunteer (and wife of the Site Manager), I know how easy it is to fall in love with this place and am constantly inspired and humbled by the woman Gene was during her life here. It's a special honor to be able to help care for her beloved home, woods, gardens and to share her story with new generations. Thanks for doing that as well with your blog!! If you're ever back for a visit, be sure to let us know :)



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