Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site
The Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site is located in northeastern Indiana, near the small town of Rome City, which has a population slightly under 1,500. It sits on 148 beautiful acres on the shore of Lake Sylvan. It is approximately thirty miles north of Fort Wayne.
The lake was created during Indiana's canal building frenzy following the legislature's 1836 Mammoth Internal Improvement Act. The act called for the creation of the Erie & Michigan Canal. This canal would run from Fort Wayne, where it would tie into the Wabash & Erie Canal, to Michigan City on Lake Michigan. It quickly became obvious that the state lacked the funds to pay for their grand visions. When work was halted, only the Northport Reservoir (now Lake Sylvan) and a few miles of canal around it had been built.
Gene moved here from Geneva, Indiana after her beloved Limberlost Swamp was drained. That home is also open to the public and known as Limberlost State Historic Site. Nearly 90 years after her death, Gene Stratton-Porter is still Indiana's most widely read female author.
The Cabin in Wildflower Woods
Ms. Porter called this home the "Cabin in Wildflower Woods." She left her Geneva home and established her residence here in 1914. The property has a good view of the Big Island (later known as Boy Scout Island) in Lake Sylvan. Gene referred to it as her "Million dollar view." The island was once used as a Boy Scout camp, but the Sylvan Lake Improvement Association purchased it in 2007 and returned it to its natural state.
As you enter the historic site, you will notice a couple limestone owls. Cardinals (Her first book was The Song of the Cardinal) and owls were her favorites, but Gene loved all birds. As a child she nursed sick and injured birds on her family's farm back to health. Her mother gave her the nickname "Little Bird Woman."
The exterior of the home is constructed from cedar and cherry wood was used for the interior. Inside there are three big fireplaces. One of them is constructed of pudding stone. This rock contains rounded pebbles held together by a sandstone like matrix.
Gene lived here with her husband for only five years. In 1919 she moved to California where her stories were being made into films. Ms. Porter kept this property and used it as a summer home until her untimely death in a Los Angeles automobile accident in 1924.
The property was passed on to Gene's daughter Jeanette. The Gene Stratton-Porter Memorial Society was formed in 1945 to acquire the property. In late 1946 they purchased the property from Jeanette and turned it over to the state.
Visiting the Site Today
The Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site is open from April through November, Tuesday through Sunday. Tours start each hour on the hour.
There are a number of special events at the Cabin in Wildflower Woods. One of the most unique is an overnight stay on the property. A limited number of visitors get to see the entire home, even the parts that are usually off-limits to the public. The curators also bring out some artifacts that are rarely on display. Movies based on Ms. Porter's books are shown, and the night is capped off with a night hike through the woods and garden.
Other events include the Wildflower Walk & Brunch held in May, and the Wildflower Woods Bird Hike, which is held a little later. In July, there is a Star Gazing and Night Hike. In the fall the have an event called Owl-oween. The Dream of Beauty Holiday Walk occurs in early December. The name comes from Gene's description of her 1917 Christmas.
In 1999, the bodies of Gene and her daughter were moved to the property. Gene's grandchildren paid for the move. Prior to her death in 1925, she had expressed a desire to be buried there.
Although Gene passed away in 1924, she contributed recipes to a book entitled Favorite Recipes of Famous Women that was published in 1925. The Gene Stratton Porter Memorial Society included a couple of her recipes in one of their quarterly newsletters. These included:
- Miner's Lettuce Salad
- Chicken and Morels
The society is working hard to restore the kitchen to the way it was when Gene lived there.