Wherein the new Limberlost Visitor Center is chronicled in vintage style.

by Curt Burnette, Naturalist/Program Developer at the Limberlost State Historic Site
(written in the style of newspaper articles of Gene Stratton-Porter’s Geneva years)

To the gratification of all Genevaites and other local citizens of the surrounding environs who have been faithful observers to its construction while eagerly awaiting its completion, Geneva’s delightful new attraction, the Limberlost Visitor Center, is now open. This beautiful 4,000 square foot building is clad with Alaskan cedar, but not in the usual lap-siding pattern of which we all are so well acquainted. Instead, these quite attractive boards are arranged in a West Coast style known as “rain screen.” A gap between and behind each board permits them to dry in a most efficient manner after each rainfall and therefore impart to them a longer life. The Limberlost State Historic Site is the first location in the fine state of Indiana to have a structure with this particular type of rain screen design. The rustic golden Alaskan cedar marvelously compliments the red cedar logs covering the Limberlost Cabin where local author and celebrity Mrs. Gene Stratton-Porter and her husband, Mr. Charles Porter, himself a local businessman and citizen of note, resided so many years ago.

visitor_center

The interior of this building contains three noteworthy areas. Visitors enter the central area through a wonderful glass foyer where handicap-accessible restrooms and drinking fountains await. Beyond the foyer lies a grand and open room with a splendid cathedral-style ceiling. Within is housed the Friends of the Limberlost gift retail establishment and several enlightening exhibitions about Mrs. Porter, her career, her family and her beloved Limberlost. To the rear of this lovely hall, a small bird-viewing room is discreetly placed for the pleasure of the ornithologically-minded.

The western end of the Center houses a fine storeroom, office facilities for the illustrious Historic Site staff, and a classroom/multi-purpose room appointed with audio-visual equipment of the most updated capabilities. This pleasant classroom can be cleverly arranged with chairs and tables for programs, presentations, meetings and gatherings of all manner and purpose. The eastern end contains an office for the sturdy and dedicated Nature Preserves staff, a kitchenette, a room housing furnaces and other devices of mechanical nature, plus another, albeit smaller, multi-purpose room.

Limberlost staff undertook the arduous but satisfying move into the new building in mid-January and threw open its doors to the public by the end of the month. A dedication and grand opening ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, April 27 at 11 a.m. This festivity will truly be a community-wide celebration as our new attraction will not only welcome visitors to the Historic Site but also to the area at large. A bodacious brochure rack in the grand hall abounds with information about Geneva, Berne, Adams and Jay counties, and the Hoosier State as a recreational and tourist destination.

The Visitor Center is the latest step in the most worthy effort to restore and promote the Land of the Limberlost. Mrs. Porter’s writings made the Limberlost famous around the world. The heyday of her immense popularity and the magnificence of the mighty swamp are gone now, but the Limberlost Cabin remains, her books are still read and admired, and the Limberlost Nature Preserves still provide access to the wonders of nature she so enjoyed. The Limberlost Visitor Center is the gateway into her world and is quite deserving of a visit. So govern yourself accordingly.

Wherein the author explains why he begins with wherein

by Curt Burnette, Naturalist/Program Developer at the Limberlost State Historic Site

When I read Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost for the first time, I was particularly intrigued by the way each chapter was introduced. For instance, Chapter 1 of Freckles begins, “Wherein Great Risks Are Taken And The Limberlost Guard Is Hired.” Chapter 1 of A Girl of the Limberlost begins, “Wherein Elnora Goes To High School And Learns Many Lessons Not Found In Her Books.” I thought these chapter descriptions were quaint and fun and whetted the readers appetite for what they were about to read.

girl_limberlost_bookFreckles and A Girl of the Limberlost were the only two novels in which Gene Stratton-Porter used this style of chapter heading, but she was not the only author to do so. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame) used a similar technique in 1926 when he published The Land of Mist. In this book, Doyle’s chapter headings all begin with “In Which” or “Which” or “Where,” such as Chapter 13 — “In Which Professor Challenger Goes Forth To Battle.” This technique goes back even further in time. In Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, published in 1605, chapter headings are often even more lengthy and descriptive. Chapter XX — “Of the adventure, never before seen or heard of, achieved by the valorous Don Quixote of La Mancha, with less peril than any ever achieved by any famous knight in all the world.” Or Chapter XXIX — “Which deals with the pleasant device that was adopted to rescue our love-sick knight from the severe penance he had imposed upon himself.”

It is probably a good thing all books don’t have chapter headings which are this wordy. Nevertheless, I did enjoy reading the chapter teases of Gene’s two most famous books. “Wherein” helped me get into the proper frame of mind to spend some time in the Limberlost at the beginning of the last century.

My use of “wherein” is a nod to Gene and an older style of writing. Books written long ago will, of course, have differences in style, word use and grammar. Gene calls a bicycle a “wheel,” and a car a “motor” and uses words such as “especial” or “espied” that we no longer use today. These differences contribute to the pleasure of reading older books and being transported back to bygone eras. Although it is hard sometimes (or most of the time) to understand what Shakespeare is saying in his works, there is never any doubt you are reading literature from a different time and place. So until next month — fare thee well in your travels and may by fate we will meet again! Forsooth!

Wherein we learn why the Limberlost now abounds with deer, but Mrs. Porter never saw any

by Curt Burnette, Limberlost Program Developer/Naturalist

It is easy to imagine the mighty Limberlost swamp would have been brimming with wildlife during the years Gene Stratton-Porter wandered about it, recording her observations and taking photographs. And, in the case of many types of wildlife, this would have been true. However, other kinds of wildlife are more abundant now than they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Believe it or not, some were already gone or disappearing even during Gene’s time.

It is quite common now to see white-tailed deer crossing our local roads, in fields or back yards or dead along highways. If anything, parts of Indiana and some of the eastern United States are overrun with deer, even in suburbs and cities. Can you imagine a time when there were no deer here at all? Although it does not seem possible, it is true.

Photo taken at the Loblolly Marsh by Willy De Smet, Friends of the Limberlost board member.

Photo taken at the Loblolly Marsh by Willy De Smet, Friends of the Limberlost board member.

Deer were abundant when the first settlers began arriving in the early 1800s, but were so heavily hunted during the 19th century that the last deer was reported in our state in 1893. For the next 41 years, there were basically no deer in Indiana but for the occasional stray from a surrounding state! As I wander the Limberlost State Historic Site these days, I see deer or deer tracks everywhere I go. Travel back to when Gene was wandering these same grounds more than 100 years ago; she would never have seen a deer or their tracks.

In 1934, the Division of Fish & Game (now known as the Division of Fish & Wildlife) began reintroducing white-tailed deer into seven counties. By 1951, the deer population had recovered well enough to allow limited hunting. Nowadays, hunting is allowed throughout the state and deer season is a joy to many Hoosier hunters. Hunting fees are also critical to managing and maintaining Indiana wildlife populations and habitats.

There were other animals that were formerly present in the Limberlost but were gone by Gene’s time. The hunting party from which Limber Jim got himself lost in the early 1800s could have encountered wolves and bear, but Gene would not have. Another animal both Limber Jim, in his day, and I, at the present, could see are beaver. By Gene’s time, they had been trapped almost to extinction, but like the deer, they have been reintroduced and are now common. Wild turkey were also once plentiful in Indiana but disappeared. They too have been brought back successfully through our conservation efforts and are found in today’s Limberlost, but not Gene’s.

One animal that we know Gene encountered frequently is so rare today it is classified as endangered in Indiana. In her writings, Gene mentions how common the massasauga rattlesnake (the swamp rattler) was in the area. Now, they are pretty much found only in a few protected spots in northern Indiana such as state parks. In the Limberlost of the past, Gene and other residents were very concerned about the bite of a rattlesnake, but that’s not the case today. Today’s concern is the collision of a deer along the road instead of the bite from a rattlesnake. Times sure have changed.

A passion for wildflowers

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.

Members enjoy thier tour of Gene Stratton-Porter’s Cabin in Rome City. The author is in the yellow jacket.

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!

Museum seeks piano

by David Buchanan, Curator of Decorative Objects and Furniture

People often offer the museum old upright pianos and we just as often reject them. “No one wants one of those big old uprights” is, unfortunately, generally heard by owners trying to find a home for theirs. I find it very ironic there is one old upright we would like very much like to find. Since this piano was mass-produced it is also likely there is someone out there who would love for theirs to be in the museum’s collection. The frustrating question is: how do we find each other?

The piano we need is an Emerson Upright Grand Piano. But not just any Emerson upright will do. We actually want to match all of the details of one currently in our collection. The piano, made in the late 1880s or early 1890s,  is displayed at Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site on Sylvan Lake near Rome City. Gene had this piano at her home in Geneva and then took it with her when she moved to Sylvan Lake. It remains there today and we need a match for the music room at Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva. Seek and ye shall find … I certainly hope so!

The front of the Emerson Upright Grand Piano.

Side detail of the Emerson Upright piano at the Gene Stratton-Porter Cabin.

Something about water

by Danesa R. Stolz, Chief Naturalist for Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve

There is just something about water. Of all of our natural resources, there is no other as precious, as plentiful or as fragile. Water is essential to all life. And as far as habitats go, in my opinion, none is more precious than a wetland.

The Loblolly Marsh at Limberlost State Historic Site is teeming with wildlife ... if you know where to look!

Wetlands were once considered wastelands. They could not be farmed and they were a place where mosquitoes flourished. In order to rid themselves of the nuisances associated with wetlands, people drained them, plowed them and attempted to control them.

But we were wrong and now know that wetlands are important. Hopefully, we have come to realize this before it is too late. It is essential that we protect wetlands. Wetlands are valuable resources. They sustain more life than almost any other habitat. At least one-third of the nation’s threatened or endangered species live in wetland areas. The productivity of wetlands, their cleansing ability and their water storage capacity make them a resource to be highly cherished.

Join us for Wetlands and Watersheds at the Indiana State Museum on Friday, Sept. 10, 10 a.m. to noon and Sunday, Sept. 19, noon to 2 p.m.

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Winter at State Historic Sites

The State Historic Sites take on different looks as the seasons change … T.C. Steele and Gene Stratton-Porter’s Sylvan Lake home shine in spring and summer with magnificent gardens, fall colors make the Muster on the Wabash interesting, and here are some great shots of Limberlost under a blanket of snow. Each of these sites have so much history and beauty, you should consider visiting them more than once a year! They’re all a short car ride from home … a nice day trip or weekend adventure. Be sure to check the website first, as some have winter hours (ex: Limberlost hours are now Tues. – Sat. 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.;  closed Sun. and Mon. until April 1.)

If you have pictures to share of your travels to any of the State Historic Sites or the Indiana State Museum, please load them to our Flickr page here.

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