The Gene Stratton-Porter State Historic site is located north of Fort Wayne on the shores of Sylvan Lake in Rome City. Gene Stratton-Porter, author and nature photographer, purchased the 20-acre plot of land in 1912 and built a log cabin to serve as a workshop. It was also an escape from the big city home she shared with her husband in Geneva. The Geneva and Rome City locations are historic sites open to the public, but the latter claims a breathtaking natural setting with formal gardens, woods and lakeside views.
Dave Fox, site manager at the Sylvan Lake property, and his fiancée Tracy Duncan, live in and take care of the home year-round and have much to share about the rich history that dwells between the walls and across the grounds. They live on the second floor of the 16-room, 4,000-square-foot home. The first floor serves as a museum and, thanks to a concentrated restoration effort, appears as if its inhabitants have simply stepped out and will return any minute. I asked Tracy what guests can expect when they visit and she walked me through from beginning to end.
Upon arrival at the visitor’s parking lot, guests are greeted by two large signs listing Stratton-Porter’s works, including 12 novels, nine nature books and five poems and essays. Here, a shelter and grill are available for outdoor gatherings and a tree-lined path that leads to the Carriage House Visitor Center where guests may pay for their tour and browse the gift shop. Guests can continue on to the garden shed, which is an original building, and finally, along the lakeshore, to the large log cabin, which served as Stratton-Porter’s escape and inspiration for many years.
Inside the home, guests will discover beautiful cherry-wood paneled walls (the wood was harvested on site) and lots of built-in cabinetry to house Stratton-Porter’s collections.
“She collected everything,” explains Duncan. “It was also extremely important to Gene that the materials used in the house came from the area.”
The most impressive example of this is the Friendship Fireplace in the front sitting room. Made from stones and rocks that Stratton-Porter collected, the fireplace dominates the room and was a central gathering place in the home. The grand staircase in the entryway is warm and welcoming and traces of Stratton-Porter are littered throughout the home. The lamp on the banister that she designed, the chandelier made from a buggy axle and the nature photos that adorn the walls all showcase her style. The house also boasts a conservatory, a dark room where Stratton-Porter developed her nature photos, a library where she did most of her writing, a huge wrap-around porch and a kitchen that was state-of-the-art for its time.
For outdoor enthusiasts, there is a two-mile hiking trail that winds through the woods and formal gardens. Duncan’s eyes lit up when she talked about the abundance of wildflowers and birds that grace the property.
“It’s a true nature-lovers haven,” she says. “Our goal is to have people out to enjoy history and nature. It’s a calm, beautiful place. Bring a picnic. Bring your kids. Gene would have loved it.”
For more information, visit genestratton-porter.com. The site is open for tours April 1 through December 1, Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. Tours are $3.50 for adults, $3 for seniors and free for children under 4. There is a calendar full of activities from nature walks to house tours to wine tastings and most cost as little as $5.