By Hannah Kiefer
Tucked away in Rome City, a small town in northeast Indiana, there’s a place where visitors can learn about a Hoosier woman who paved the way for women across multiple industries: Gene Stratton-Porter.
Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site was established in 1946, and in the more than seven decades since then, visitors have been delighted with not only the natural beauty of the site, but also the story of Gene.
“Gene was a woman ahead of her time,” said Dave Fox, site manager at Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic Site. “She is best known as Indiana’s most widely-read female author still to this day, but she was also an amazing photographer, naturalist, architect, musician, painter, and entrepreneur.”
Gene wrote many books, including “A Girl of the Limberlost,” “Laddie: A True Blue Story,” “The Keeper of the Bees,” and many more. Her first book written in Rome City was “Michael O’Halloran” in 1914, followed by a book of children’s poems entitled “Morning Face” in 1915
She also eventually moved to California and owned one of the nation’s first female-owned movie production companies: Gene Stratton-Porter Productions.
“If it weren’t for her tragic death (1924), we might still be watching movies produced by Gene Stratton-Porter Productions instead of Warner Brothers or United Artists,” Dave said.
Gene was a woman who lived life exactly how she wanted to, unfettered by societal norms during a time when women were often expected to behave in certain ways. Some things she did were even scandalous, such as wearing pants, going into the swamp with men who helped her carry her photography equipment, having her own money and living apart from her husband.
The historic site is located in a stunning location, which includes the “Wildflower Woods” and Sylvan Lake. A visit in April will make you understand why Gene gave the woods that name. In May, visitors to the site can enjoy the songbird migration, which brings visiting warblers and other songbirds to the site. During the summer months, Gene’s “tame” garden comes to life with many types of cultivated flowers across 35 bed, including her husband’s beloved dahlias. In fall, spectacular foliage can be seen across the grounds and lake, viewed through Gene’s cabin. Although winter brings lake effect snow, the site remains beautiful as snow blankets the gardens, grounds and cabin.
Architectural beauty graces the site as well. When stopping by the site, visitors are first greeted with towering pillars made of puddingstone with Great Horned Owls – made of Bedford, Ind., limestone – perched on top. Visitors can then experience a tour of Gene’s cabin, which was built in the Queen Anne Rustic Style and completed in 1914. Dozens of flower beds and a 110-foot-long wisteria vine-covered arbor can be seen by visitors as well. Additionally, Gene found an artesian well near the shore of Sylvan Lake and created a surround to capture the water – something guests can still see today!
The site in Rome City is also Gene and her daughter, Jeannette’s final resting place. It took 75 years, but her wish to be buried under a mighty chinquapin oak tree was finally granted by her grandsons, Jim and John Meehan. It is beautiful to see that after all those years, adoring fans still leave bouquets of flowers in her memory.
Throughout the month of May, be sure to follow the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as we share more fun stories and facts about Gene Stratton-Porter state Historic Site.