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Limberlost State Historic Site

Updated on December 16, 2015
Limberlost was the home of author & naturalist Gene Stratton-Porter
Limberlost was the home of author & naturalist Gene Stratton-Porter

The Building

Limberlost State Historic Site was the home of Hoosier author and naturalist Gene Stratton Porter. She was born in Wabash County during the Civil War and married Charles Dorwin Porter in 1886. They lived in Decatur (17 miles north of Geneva on US 27) until moving to Geneva in 1895. The house was designed by Gene and Charles, and has many interesting features. The lower story is built of Wisconsin cedar logs, which where shipped in by rail. Redwood shingles were used on the upper story. Mrs. Porter wanted the house to look natural so that animals would not be afraid to approach it. Once inside, the visitor notices the many windows, obviously to allow observation of wildlife. Gene kept writing tables near the windows, where she often worked. The many glass cases were to keep the Porters' collections from gathering dust. Charles had a collection of Indian artifacts from his travels, and Gene had her nature items. Each of the three main rooms on the lower level have "Pocket doors." These are recessed into the walls, but can be slid out to close off any of the rooms. Since there is a fireplace in the library, the casual visitor would probably expect that the Porters used wood to heat the home. Actually, gas was used, because this area was in the middle of a gas boom while the Porters lived there. The ceramic logs in the fireplace are original. The town of Geneva had three wells, and for $1 a month bought all the gas a family could use. In the bedroom there is a small hole in the floor. A long gas key was inserted through this hole to regulate the heat output.

Inside the Home

In the library, two birds, a great blue heron, and a golden eagle are mounted in display cases. The heron is a replacement for the one Gene had, since the original became infested with insects and had to be destroyed a few years ago. The golden eagle is original. He had the misfortune of selecting a chicken dinner from a farmer who happened to be an excellent marksman. Gene heard the shot, and since she had nursed many injured birds back to health, went to investigate. The only thing she could do with this bird, however, was have it stuffed. Other items on display within the home include her moth and butterfly collection, which shows the ravages of time after nearly ninety years. One of Charles' possessions was a portion of a mastodon skeleton found in the area. A case in the dining room contains the globes used by the Porters' for the gas lighting. After the gas wells went dry, the next owners added electricity and a coal furnace. Realizing the historical significance of this house, they maintained it very well until it was purchased by the state in the 1940s.

The Swamp

The name of the home comes from the 13 thousand-acre swamp once located south of this site. It was described as a "Treacherous swamp and quagmire with every plant, animal, and human danger known." When Jim Corbus, a local resident better known as "Limber Jim," went into the swamp and never returned, it became known as Limberlost. This swamp was where Gene studied nature, and did a great deal of photographic work. Some of her work was so amazing that Kodak sent a technician to see how she did it. Because she took so many pictures, and often experimented inside her house, a great deal is known about how the home looked when the Porters lived there. She started by writing magazine articles, and often accepted photographic equipment as payment. Her first book, "The Song of the Cardinal," was published in 1903. While living here, Mrs. Porter wrote six novels and five nature books.

Draining the Swamp

The swamp was finally drained in 1913, despite the objections of Gene. While the preservation of wetlands is recognized as important today, it was no doubt regarded as sheer lunacy in the early 1900s. Oil and gas men wanted better access to the oil fields, loggers wanted the timber, farmers wanted to till the land, and the local towns wanted the highway that was to pass through the area. After the drainage of the swamp, the Porters moved near Rome City on the shores of Sylvan Lake in Noble County. That property became known as 'The Cabin in Wildflower Woods" and is now the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site.

Restoring the Swamp

The original Limberlost Swamp encompassed over 13,000 acres. About ten percent of that acreage is now restored or in the process of being restored. The process started in 1947, when twelve acres were donated for a bird sanctuary. Things picked up steam in 1991, when a non-profit group called Limberlost Swamp Remembered was formed. By 2001, the group had accumulated over 1,000 acres for restoration. Restoration is done primarily by stopping up drainage tiles to keep water from draining away. Where needed, they re-seed with native plants. Their biggest success to date is the Loblolly Marsh, which was part of Limberlost. The word "loblolly" comes from the Miami Indians who once lived in the area and means "Stinking river." This 440 acre parcel became Indiana's 250th nature preserve. Here is a video of Mitch Daniels at the dedication ceremony in 2012. For more information about the preserve, visit the Department of Natural Resources' Loblolly Marsh Nature Preserve page.

The Entrance to Loblolly Marsh
The Entrance to Loblolly Marsh | Source

Visiting the Area

Limberlost State Historic Site is located in Adams county, Indiana. The county has a large Amish community. Many of the original settlers of the area were from Switzerland, which accounts for towns named Geneva & Berne. For more information to help planning your visit, check out Adams County Indiana.

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