Thomas Fuller is a public history student who has an internship with the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites.
Behind the Scenes at Indiana State Museum’s Limberlost State Historic Site
No matter where you go, rather it be to a public museum or a Broadway show, there will always be things that happen “behind the scenes” that the public is never aware of. But is necessary for these things to operate successfully. As someone who has been in the performing arts for about 10 years, I know this all too well. This is no different for a historic site such as Limberlost. There are parts that no one other than the staff, ever get to see and I will show you some of these areas that I have found interesting during my three weeks here.
Before I get to the good part, I should first explain what the State Historic Site is. The Limberlost Cabin in Geneva, Indiana was the home to one of Indiana’s well-known authors, Gene Stratton-Porter. After Charles Porter and Gene Stratton were married in August 1886, they moved from Decatur, Indiana to Geneva in 1888 in a small yellow house close to Charles’s businesses. Charles did eventually found oil on his farmland, and they used the money to build the larger house that they would call home from 1985 to 1913.
This description just scratches the surface of their incredible story. I highly recommend taking the trip to Geneva and going on a site tour to get the full story of Charles and Gene’s life. Each staff member gives a different type of tour. Some focus more on Gene Stratton-Porters personal life and have more storytelling, while others tend to focus more on the naturalist and practical side of her story. So, depending on who is leading your tour you will get a different experience, which is something to keep in mind if you do end up visiting the site.
Once the state acquired the cabin in 1947, there was no visitor center or parking lot available. It was only the cabin. Everything, including administration, had to be carried out in the cabin itself. Administration was located upstairs along with their gift shop. The tours would stay on the main level. The curators and site manager were able to live in the cabin. The visitor center was officially completed in 2013 and all of the administrative tasks, including the gift shop and restrooms, would move into this building. Now every tour begins and ends in this building, and the museum is able to hold several artifacts and items from the Porter’s, including Charles’s desk and bank safe.
This move from the cabin would leave the upstairs empty. Even now tours do not go upstairs. We only discuss the layout and that is it.
This would have been the actual living room for the Porter’s. On the main floor there is no traditional living room, so at night they would retire to the upstairs living room and unwind before they went to their beds. Their bedrooms were also upstairs. Unlike the main level there were two fireplaces, instead of the three downstairs. One in the living room and the other in one of the bedrooms. These were also fueled by natural gas.
The staff is currently working on a project to refurbish the upstairs based off photographs Gene Stratton-Porter took when she lived here, making it a more authentic experience.
During this period most people stored their clothes in wardrobes. However, Mrs. Porter had designed full closets in the upstairs bedrooms. We believe that she got this idea from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, which she and Charles attended. The cabin does have an attic and basement. Two attics, in fact. We are not entirely sure what the Porter’s would have used the main attic for or if they even did. But we know the side attic would have stored the water tank that provided the running water for the appliances throughout the house, including the toilet, sink, bathtub, and conservatory. The basement’s main feature is the coal chute that is directly under the conservatory. They would shovel the coal in through the opening outside and it would fall down a concrete funnel into a storage area where they could have easy access to it when needed.
Now throughout this writing I have been referring to this place as a cabin, which it is but it also isn’t. The house itself is a framed structure, like houses are today. The wooden studs bear all the weight of the house. The outer logs do not hold any weight at all. They are solely an aesthetic feature. The carriage house follows this design – or so we thought.
The Carriage House
On official tours, we do not talk a lot about the carriage house. Visitors walk under the breezeway and stop to talk about John Brenner, who worked for the Porter’s, and we show his room which was in the carriage house.
At first glance the carriage house looks exactly like the cabin. So, one would expect it to be frame built like the cabin. However, when I was going up to what would have been the hay loft, the frames weren’t visible. There were only logs suggesting that the carriage house is built in a log cabin style.
There is record that there was originally a different carriage house here that ended up burning down. Then a few years later Charles built the one that still stands today. This brings up the question as to why didn’t Charles design the new carriage house like the main cabin? We do not know the answer, but we can speculate that it may have been cheaper to build it in one style and they had left over logs from the main cabin. Since it is more or less a barn it did not need to have that framing adding cost to the build when one style would work just fine. It is hard to tell, and all we can do is speculate as to why this decision was Porter’s.
This was a look behind the scenes at the Limberlost State Historic Site and a little snippet of information about the Porter’s. Gene Stratton-Porter has an incredible life story that she also brings out in her writings. Her writings still stand as an inspiration to the people that read them to this day.
Check out more stories of our public history students as part of our Curation Chronicles Series!