In our continuing visits to sites within easy driving distance of Indianapolis, we make the first of two stops at homes of Gene Stratton-Porter, an underappreciated Hoosier author and conservationist.
Geneva Stratton was born in 1863 on a farm near Lagro in Wabash County, the last of 12 children. As a child, she developed a love of animals and nature, earning her the nickname “The Little Bird Woman.” In 1884, she met 34-year-old Charles Porter, a wealthy businessman, at a Chautauqua gathering in northern Indiana. After they married in 1886, she shortened her name to Gene and added his surname to hers, becoming Gene Stratton-Porter. Two years later, the couple moved to a small home in Geneva, Ind., to be closer to his business interests.
When oil was discovered on the home site, they built a rustic Queen Anne-style house near Geneva’s infamous 13,000-acre Limberlost Swamp. The two-story, 14-room house, featuring a cedar log façade and wrap-around porch, became known as the Limberlost Cabin.
Stratton-Porter rejected the traditional role and dress of a housewife, wearing slacks and writing novels and magazine articles. Limberlost Swamp became a place for her to explore nature and a setting for her writings. While living at Limberlost Cabin, Stratton-Porter wrote six novels and five nature books, including the best-selling “Freckles” and “A Girl of the Limberlost.”
After receiving a small box camera from her daughter for Christmas, Stratton-Porter became an accomplished nature photographer, hauling equipment into the swamp and hiding to get pictures of wildlife. She developed the pictures in her bathroom and on turkey trays in the dining room. While at Limberlost Cabin, her photographs won four national awards and she became independently wealthy.
After Limberlost Swamp was drained, Stratton-Porter built another home near Sylvan Lake in Noble County, which we will visit next week.