Historical Treasures Found in the Limberlost

Once upon a time I lived in small town Indiana, but I’ve been a suburbanite for decades. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a leisurely drive on a two-lane highway through the flat lands of the state, but this week I “wandered Indiana.”.

Home of Gene Stratton-Porter

Home of Gene Stratton-Porter

One destination was the state historic site of Gene Stratton-Porter’s home in Geneva, Indiana, an easy day trip. Having rediscovered this famous author and her books, I wanted to visit the town where she began her writing career. More fun for me – fellow Scriblerian Beth Steury met me there.

As I approached Geneva, the land subtly shifted from an abundance of corn fields to uncultivated wetlands. Each pond and marsh possessed its own water fowl, herons, swans, egrets.

Pisgah Marsh. Photo by David Cornwell, www.flickr.com

Pisgah Marsh. Photo by David Cornwell, http://www.flickr.com

Both docents at the museum center welcomed all questions and volunteered tidbits I would have never thought to ask. Here’s a quick rundown of what I learned:

  1. Geneva Stratton was born in Lagro (stress the second syllable), not Geneva. And here I’d thought she was named after her hometown.
  2. Youngest of twelve children and left to entertain herself much of the time, she spent her days watching birds and helping in the garden, activities that contributed to her skills as a naturalist and conservationist.
  3. As I suspected, Gene is the Bird Woman character in A Girl of the Limberlost and Freckles.
  4. She started her career by writing magazine articles on nature, which led to short stories, which led to novels, which led to movies.
  5. She moved from Geneva to Rome City, Indiana, to avoid autograph hounds.
  6. Having been one of the fortunate few to survive the Spanish flu, she then moved to California in 1918 to regain her health.
  7. Her husband’s attitude was way ahead of his time. Who else circa 1900 allowed their wives to dress in pants and spend their days lying in a swamp holding a camera and waiting for the perfect shot of a baby vulture?

The Porters built their home in 1895, a large house made of logs.I was surprised they didn’t build out in the country, but it sits in the middle of town. While I’m not an antiques enthusiast, I do enjoy visiting history via the furnishings of its time. The best part of the Porter home? I could touch the furniture. Nothing was roped off.

Gene Stratton-Porter's dining room

Gene Stratton-Porter’s dining room

If I’d stretched out on the antique bed, I’m sure I would have received a reprimand, but I was welcome to brush my fingers against the fabric of the coverlet.

Why have I shared my sightseeing tour on a Scriblerian post? Remember, I told you in my last post (Lost Virtues Found in the Limberlost) how Porter’s books are great for homeschoolers. Visiting the Limberlost region and Gene Stratton-Porter’s home makes for a great field trip as well. In fact, the staff at the museum center plans a calendar of events which includes student activities.


If you’re traveling through Indiana on vacation, make time for a visit. I’ve included a list of related websites below.

You’re welcome, Indiana.

http://www.indianamuseum.org/limberlost; http://www.bernein.com; http://www.swissheritage.org; http://www.BerneClockTowerInn.com; http://www.visiteasternindiana.org; http://www.fwhistorycenter.com; http://www.kidszoo.org; http://www.botanicalconservatory.org

Lost Virtues Found in the Limberlost

About twenty years ago, William Bennett, a right-wing politician, published a collection of stories titled The Book of Virtues. It made quite a splash, especially in the liberal literary world. Outspoken pundits on the left couldn’t believe they would ever endorse such an author or introduce his work to their children. However, they prided themselves on being openminded, and they (reluctantly) voiced their approval. All but the most strident still believed in the traditional virtues of loyalty, honesty, and family.

Over a century ago, Gene Stratton-Porter filled her novels to overflowing with virtues. The public loved her work. How sad that our society has taken such giant steps backward.

Hers are books that stir the soul and make a child say, “I want to be good. Like Elnora. Like Freckles.” Even as an adult fast moving toward old age, I say the same. The characters in Porter’s books are to be admired for their goodness. How they handle adversity. How love heaps burning coals on an enemy’s head until he or she is so ashamed, repentance and love returned are the final results.

For those of you who homeschool, I can’t recommend Porter’s books highly enough. Not only do you read uplifting stories, you receive lessons in botany and ecology. Porter creates characters who are passionate naturalists as she herself was. In fact, much of what she wrote is somewhat autobiographical.



Geneva Stratton was born in 1863 and grew up in northeastern Indiana near a swamp called the Limberlost. She and her husband even built a home there. Once a treasure trove of rare flora and fauna, the Limberlost could not survive civilization. People wanted to build more houses so engineers drained the swamp. The author’s heart broke as she watched various species disappear, but she continued to write about her beloved Limberlost.

Stratton-Porter wrote thirteen novels and several nonfiction books between 1903 and 1924. I had read Keeper of the Bees years ago, and the old-fashioned language took some getting used to. However, I recently read Girl of the Limberlost, and the language didn’t snag me at all – the story is that good! Read the books aloud together. If your little ones get lost in the descriptions, skip over some of it. But please! Not all of it. The prose is too good to ignore.

As my grandchildren grow, I fully intend to add Gene Stratton-Porter’s novels to their home libraries. Teaching our children virtue has to be right behind teaching them faith in Christ. One lesson complements the other.

Thank you, Gene Stratton-Porter for providing wonderful, edifying reads, and thank you, Bill Bennett, for renewing our education in virtue.