By Mary Giorgio

In the early 1900s, Gene Stratton Porter entertained thousands of readers with her tales of romance and adventure set in memorable natural landscapes. Her books sold 10 million copies by the time she died in 1924, making Porter Indiana’s most successful female author.

Porter was born in Lagro, Indiana, on August 17, 1863. She grew up on a farm with eleven siblings. In 1886, she married Charles Porter. The couple moved to Geneva, Indiana, in 1894. There, they built a 14-room home that soon became known locally as Limberlost Cabin.

The home was located near Limberlost Swamp, a local wetland habitat of ecological significance. Porter soon immersed herself in the study of the plants and animals that lived in the swamp. Porter recognized the area as a valuable habitat for many different species. However, nearby oil drilling threatened the loss of the swamp’s wetlands. Porter campaigned unsuccessfully to stop drilling and preserve the wetlands.

Porter spent much of her time exploring the wetlands and documenting the characteristics of the plants, birds, and insects that called the area home. Her observations and photographs were printed in magazines across the country.

Around this time, Porter also gained fame as a fiction author. Her first book, Song of the Cardinal, was published in 1903. All of Porter’s books aimed to inspire readers with a love of nature. Many were set in Porter’s beloved Limberlost Swamp. Her most popular books were Freckles (1904) and Girl of the Limberlost (1909).

In 1912, Porter moved to Rome City, Indiana. There, she designed a house on Sylvan Lake that would become known as Wildflower Woods. The home was surrounded by scenic woodlands. Porter continued her nature studies in her new home.

In 1918, Porter relocated to California to make movies based on her popular books. She had just started her own production company in 1924, when Porter was killed in an automobile accident.

Today, two state historic sites pay homage to the Hoosier naturalist and author. Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva offers a guided tour of Porter’s Famed Limberlost Cabin.

Visitors can also hike at nearby Loblolly Marsh, a wetland preserve established in 1997. The 400-acre marsh is part of the original Limberlost Swamp, which once spanned a whopping 13,000 acres. To date, about 1,500 miles of swampland have been restored, bringing biodiversity in plant and animal life back to the area.

In Rome City, visitors can tour Porter’s Wildflower Woods home on Sylvan Lake. The state historic site also includes 148 acres of fields, woods, and gardens to explore. Porter’s burial site is located on the grounds.

Today, Gene Stratton Porter remains an undisputed Hoosier legend. The author and naturalist is remembered not just for her bestselling books, but for her commitment to protecting Indiana’s natural habitats from the effects of industrialization.