Though the first non-Native settlers in Adams County were from New England, encouraged by the new Erie Canal, it was the arrival of the first Amish/Mennonite settlers in 1840 and the German-Swiss immigrants that followed that left a lasting impact on the culture of the county, especially in its southern half.
Berne was settled in 1852 by immigrants who named the community for the capital of Switzerland. The first train to arrive at the Berne railroad depot came Christmas Day 1871. The railroad brought a steady stream of Swiss and German people into the area. Simultaneously to the south of Berne, two neighboring towns merged in 1871 to create Geneva, named after another Swiss city.
Perhaps the most well-known individual from Adams County was Gene Stratton-Porter. Though she was originally from Wabash County, her career as a best-selling writer of fiction, non-fiction and essays; nature photographer; naturalist; and silent movie-era producer, began with her love of the flora and fauna of a vast wetland known as the Limberlost Swamp. The swamp once straddled the Adams-Jay county line south of the Wabash River.
After moving to Geneva in 1888, Stratton-Porter began spending much time exploring, observing nature, sketching, and making photographs at the nearby wetland. She also began writing nature stories and books. The swamp was the setting for two of her most popular novels, Freckles (1904) and A Girl of the Limberlost (1909).
But at the very time she was immortalizing Limberlost in her writings and photographs, the Limberlost was being lost — drained to collect its gas deposits and create farmland. With the destruction of her beloved natural area, she purchased land for a new home on Sylvan Lake in Noble County with the profits from her successful writings, and the family moved in 1913.
The Limberlost Cabin, where she lived in Geneva from 1895 to 1913, today is the Limberlost State Historic Site. The state operates the site, which was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, as a house museum.
Part of the original swamp was restored beginning in 1991 by a group of local residents who recognized its environmental and historical importance. (The restoration was previously documented in two issues of this publication.) At approximately 1,500 acres, the Loblolly Marsh, taking the original Native American name for the swamp, today once again offers habitat to many different types of birds and other wildlife. Nature programs throughout the summer also offer visitors a chance to enjoy guided tours of the land surrounding the site with an on-staff naturalist.
About Adams County
Named for: John Quincy Adams, President of the United States, 1825-1829, and a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Massachusetts, 1831 until his death in 1848, when the county was founded.
Population: 35,777 (2019 estimate)
County seat: Decatur