by Karen Lowe, Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites member
If you want to indulge your passion for wildflowers and enjoy the sound of a variety of birds, I recommend a visit to the Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site at Rome City. Overlooking Sylvan Lake, her Cabin at Wildflower Woods has been accurately maintained to represent the author’s years here. Built with the proceeds from the sales of her many books, the cabin and surrounding land reflect her interest in the preservation of natural habitats for flora and fauna.
The site managers gave an impressive tour of the cabin. The beautiful cherry woodwork was fashioned from trees which were on the property. Several examples of Stratton-Porter’s photography are on the walls. Some of the furniture is original, such as a cherry chest, carved by her father, Mark Stratton, and given as a wedding gift. Her piano, which she brought from her Limberlost home in Geneva, is in the library, which also contains her Victrola. The library is lined with built-in shelves filled with the many books that interested her. The cabin has four fireplaces, the most impressive one being in the parlor. This massive fireplace, called the Friendship fireplace, is made from a variety of interesting stones, including the colorful pudding stone, which she liked so much that she also had it surrounding a spring out in the garden. A large picture window, which Ms. Porter called the million dollar window because of the view of the lake, dominates this room. The conservatory has much natural light coming in through the many windows, and is designed to serve as an aviary as well. This is much like her conservatory at the Limberlost which she designed to bring in moths.
The second floor of the cabin has a sleeping porch that looks out on the lake, and can be accessed from Ms. Porter’s bedroom. There is a fireplace and half-bath in her room. The built-in storage units include a huge cedar closet in the hall, used to store blankets and winter clothes.
Equally impressive was the tour of the gardens. There are both wildflower habitat and what she called her “tame garden.” She left extensive information as to how this garden was laid out and planted, and the managers, with the help of master gardeners and other volunteers, have painstakingly worked to recreate these plans. In one of the gardens there are globe thistle, butterfly weed, milkweed and other plants that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. A garden designed for sun-loving flowers contains black-eyed Susans, cone flowers and ladies’ mantle. Another area is for Indiana native flowers: wild oats, wood poppy, May apple, bluebells, bloodroot, wild ginger.
There is a fascinating variety of wildflowers throughout the property. In bloom during our visit were large flower trillium, rue anemone, Dutchman’s britches, violets, shooting stars, Jack- in-the-pulpit, nodding trillium. As we strolled through the gardens, we heard many birds, and saw a few, such as a downy woodpecker and a nuthatch snacking on suet cakes. A mute swan was gracefully gliding across the lake, and we heard the call of geese, the twitter of the tufted titmouse, and the louder voice of a pileated woodpecker.
Gene Stratton-Porter died in California in 1924. Her wish was to be buried under her favorite tree here in the Wildflower Woods, which was the chinkapin oak. Many years after her death, her wish was fulfilled and there is a sculpture and lovely headstone for her and her daughter Jeannette off one of the footpaths.
Postscript: As usual, Chrissy Vasquez arranged a great members’ tour to Rome City on April 14, which included a comfortable bus (driver, James), informative literature, snacks and videos pertaining to the subject of the tour. A meal was provided at the site as well and each participant was given a package of wildflower seeds and some postcards which show rooms in the cabin. Consider becoming a member of the Indiana State Museum & Historic Sites!