I think my love of flowers, birds, butterflies, and moths began when I read Gene Stratton-Porter’s A Girl of the Limberlost as a young girl in the 60s. It’s wonderful book about a determined young woman, Elnora, living in marshy northeast Indiana in the early 1900s. She gathers and sells beautiful moths and bird nests to earn money for clothes. books, and a chance to go to school. Throw in a dangerous swamp, a cruel single mother, and unkind fellow students as antagonists, and add a caring neighbor couple, a moth-buying “bird woman”, and an eventual love interest as protagonists. With pluck, a tender heart and love of nature, Elnora comes out on top. I LOVE this book. What an amazing character building story! And such a rich natural setting. If you haven’t read it, you must!
Gene Statton-Porter (1863-1924) was an author, a naturalist and a movie producer at a time when wives of wealthy bankers typically did none of those things. The work she did for conservation has been compared to that of her contemporary, Teddy Roosevelt. Smithsonian Magazine‘s March 2020 issue has a marvelous article, “The Legend of Limberlost”, that does a deep dive into her career and impact. She and her 26 books duing her lifetime were the equivalent of J.K. Rowling’s literary impact today. And that is saying something!
Four generations of “plucky women” in my family (Great Aunt Jessie, my Mom, me, and my daughter Carrie) have read and loved the book, and granddaughter Bridget is joining the ranks as the fifth generation! It’s this love of story & setting that inspired Carrie, Bridget and I to visit two Indiana State Museum Historic Sites (Gene Stratton-Porter SHS and Limberlost SHS) and Indiana Department of Naturaul Resources‘ Loblolly Marsh Nature Preserve during a recent family vacation to Sylvan Lake in Northeast Indiana.
Carrie and I were determined to visit Gene Stratton-Porter’s home on Sylvan Lake, “Wildflower Woods”, while we were in the area. We had no idea it was accessible by boat until we took a “get acquainted tour” of the lake on the pontoon boat she’d rented! So one morning during some tubing fun, Ken dropped us off at the property’s dock so we could visit.
The “Wildflower Woods” property was stunning with it’s waters edge path and surrounding woods, rambling cottage garden and incredible wisteria arbor. Gene Stratton-Porter personally planned all 35 flower beds, paths & arbors during the five years she lived at the property before moving to California to begin her film production company. The tour of this home that she also designed was excellent. We enjoyed seeing her nature photographs, relics from her husband’s travels, and where she wrote her later books by dictating to her personal secretary seated at a typewriter. We did some damage at the gift shop and got Bridget her own copy of A Girl of the Limberlost!
When everyone left the lake and Rome City IN for home, Carrie and I took a side trip to Geneva, IN to visit the Limberlost site where Gene Stratton-Porter wrote her first five books, including A Girl of the Limberlost. This earlier home was charming. We loved seeing the desk where she wrote those first books, the large stuffed birds that her daughter would dress up for pretend tea parties (LOL), display cases of moths she had caught, and the dreamy conservatory where plants and moth chrysalises would have been kept.
Then came the part where Carrie asked if I’d be interested in going to the swamp… Who says “no” to that! We left the Limberlost State Historic Site and ventured over to DNR’s Loblolly Marsh, once part of the much larger Limberlost Swamp. (To understand what happened to the swamp thanks to The Swamp Act in the early 20th century, read that Smithsonian article!) It was a beautiful day for a wildflower foray. (Luckily for me, Carrie was in the lead, and the spider webs and chiggers got to her first.) The meadow was beautiful, and we were rewarded with some mossy water and snaggy trees to complete the story setting picture in our heads!
What a soul nurturing field trip I experienced with my Limberlost girls! It was so much fun to talk about the book’s plot lines and learn about the character development “secrets” during the home tours and grounds explorations. And of course, sharing an adventure with Carrie and Bridget was just the best. Our “family girls book club” has really upped its game this summer!