This past week, I was lucky enough to get the behind-the-scenes tour of Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva, IN. Limberlost was the home of author Gene Stratton-Porter; a pioneer for women and naturalists alike.
The director, Nicky Ball, gave me such an information-filled tour, that I couldn’t WAIT to post about it. Just $6 gets you in the door ($5 for seniors and $3 for kids) and provides fun at every age.
You walk through the front doors to the sounds of birds chirping; birds that would have been found in the area during Gene Stratton-Porter’s time. There you have a brief introduction to the historical site, the gift shop, a classroom or meeting space, and dolls wearing custom dresses made to the specifications from Gene’s popular book, Girl of the Limberlost.
How did they come up with the name Limberlost? Apparently the swamp received its name from Limber Jim Corbus who went hunting in the swamp and never returned. All the locals yelled, “Limber’s lost!”
Our tour actually started in the classroom, where we snuck in to watch a Luna moth who was in the middle of a photoshoot. I learned that the moths had been delivered in their cocoons and would be born that week. They only live for about 2 weeks so the photoshoot was time sensitive. It was also temperature sensitive. Believe it or not, you put the moths in the fridge and let them get chilly to keep them from flying around while you’re trying to take pictures of them. They are creatures whose sole purpose in life is to mate. The ladies moths will spray a strong pheromone that male moths can smell (and will follow) from 7 miles away! Watch out if they spray you or you’ll be covered in moths as well!
(Here is one of the photos taken while I was visiting borrowed from Limberlost’s Facebook)
The next stop on the tour was the carriage house where Gene kept her horse, Patience. Her horse’s name also described his temperament as he would wait on Gene for hours while she collect moth and plant samples. This area of the property also housed her wagon/carriage and the hired help who did about anything you could imagine on the property.
The main, and most beautiful stop, was the main house. In the early 1900’s the Limberlost Swamp just about surrounded the house and Gene loved living so close to the variety of plants, animals, and dangers that came along with it. The house itself was a wedding gift from her husband, Charles Porter. They were very much opposites and there was a 13 year difference between them. Owner of a drug store in Geneva, and later an oil company and founder of Bank of Geneva, Charles told Gene to build her dream house and she barred no expense. It was one of two houses to have indoor plumbing at the time. The home’s details, complete with 7 fireplaces, an upstair bathroom, and even a water run off on the deck, was very carefully chosen. She specifically had the landscapers that helped with the yard take the rock from the swamp quarry to create a fence. She even helped carry some of the rock! She purposefully left holes in the fence for small creatures to enter the yard so Gene could observe them and keep them safe from predators in the swamp.
The conservatory on the side of the house grew several plants and could be open or closed off to the rest of the house. There were tiny windows to let moths fly in at night and keep warm and even a drain to the outdoors for cleaning or in case water spilled while taking care of the plants. Gene could also play the piano and loved to draw. In the house there is a drawing of Charles holding their daughter, Jeannette, that Gene did herself. She was known to take the pictures she photographed and paint them to match exactly with watercolors.
When we entered the house, the first thing I noticed was that the kitchen was a bright blue. That was the actual color she had picked! They were working on renovating the kitchen so I will be sure to go back to see the differences.
In the dining room, there were several photos Gene had taken. Some of animals, and some of her family. Here, I noticed that the ceiling was ornate and so detailed. That continued into each room of the house.
The library was probably Gene’s favorite room. Her desk was well worn (as any good writer’s should be) and her desk lamp had an oil line that fed from the chandelier above. The encased eagle was left with the house and the photos around it showed Gene had taken the time to dress up several of her stuffed birds for a tea party. (Odd!)
The front room held the piano, easel, watercolor paint box, and another ornate ceiling. Nicky told me the easel was handmade by Gene’s father from an upside down dining chair!
The guest chambers had another room attached that was used as Jeanette’s playroom when she was little. Some of her dolls were still there in a tiny bassinet. There was a lounge near the window where Gene would pin moth cocoons to her pillow and listen for them to rattle in the night.
Outside the back door, there was a little porch. Under the porch was a secret door where Jeanette would play!
Upstairs (where most regular tours end) was pretty bare. It was previously used as office space and was super chilly in the winter. There was once a half bath, hallway, storage closet, living room, and giant bedroom and another room (with a walk-in closet). There was a beautiful piece at the top of the stairs that they think was still original to the house.
Gene thought of everything for this place! The “Queen Ann rustic log “cabin” was completed with 14 rooms in 1895. The Limberlost Cabin was way beyond its years, much like Gene herself.
Very few women in her time hyphenated their names after they married.Geneva (always known as Gene) Grace Stratton was raised by two outdoorsy parents. As she grew up she became a best selling author, averaging one book per minute at the peak of her time. She was also a naturalist, photographer, and illustrator. All this from a woman who didn’t finish high school because she had to take care of a sick parent! In this house, Gene wrote 6 of her 12 novels and 5 of her 7 nature books. Several of those books were turned into motion pictures that Gene produced. She was asked by other companies if she’d like to make a movie of her book, Freckles, but she didn’t like the way they changed it so she started her own production company and her daughter, Jeannette, starred in several of them! By the time she died, she was probably one of the wealthiest women in the world.
By the time we got back to the office, the only thing left to observe was the desk and safe from the bank Charles owned. It was amazing to see how intricate the safe was. There were 2 timers that would determine what time the safe unlocked in the morning and locked at night. There were also a few pictures of Charles on his baseball team.
The place was amazing and I learned soooooo much. I can’t wait to take my family next time they are here and give them a tour! Thanks to Nicky Ball for taking the time to educate me!