Our Land, Our Literature
Our Land, Our Literature Home
Search our Site
Environment Regions Contacts and Links About Us  

George AdeGeorge Ade

Hoosier Connection: Ade’s birthplace and home was near Kentland, Indiana, until he moved to Lafayette to attend Purdue University. After college, Ade moved again, this time to Chicago to work as a newspaper writer. After twelve years in the city, Ade bought a farm in his native Newton County to live at when he was not in Chicago working. He dwelt there, with the exception of some overseas voyages, until his death.

Works Discussed: Doc' Horne: A Story of the Streets and Towns, Single Blessedness, and other Observations, In Babel, Stories of Chicago, Chicago Stories, People You Know, Breaking into Society, What They Had Laid out for their Vacation, More Aces, Olof Lindstrom goes Fishing, Indiana, and Hoosier Handbook and Guide for the Returning Exile.

George Ade was the child of John and Adaline Ade. His pioneer parents settled near Kentland, Indiana, only twenty years after the first white child was born in the settlement. Growing up as a young frontiersman, Ade was exposed to the beauty of the untouched prairie, and watched as the area was settled and converted for agricultural purposes. From a young age, Ade was an avid reader and this led him away from becoming a farmer like the rest of his family. After graduating from the newly built Purdue University, Ade wrote for some newspapers in Lafayette before moving to Chicago where he found work at The Morning News, which later became Chicago Record. He began publishing his own work in 1896, and kept writing for the rest of his life. He was well known as a humorist and for his tongue-in-cheek style of writing.

As a Hoosier, Ade shows in his writing an appreciation for the landscape and love of what the natural environment used to be like. Since he witnessed the alteration of the environment, it is a common theme in many of his works. Some of these works include the essay “Looking Back from Fifty” and excerpts from the book Doc’ Horne.

In Single Blessedness, and other Observations, “Looking Back from Fifty” describes the environment of his youth:

So far as I can testify, and as I do verily believe, nothing much happened in Indiana previous to 1870. The world at that time was all prairie and cornfields, except for the white houses of the county seat and a dark line of timber against the horizon…. It was only a short cut across fields to unbroken prairie that had never been touched by a plow. Every township in the Middle West should have reserved and parked one square mile of the prairie, leaving it just as the settlers found it. It was a grassy jungle matted with flower gardens. Tall perennials shot their gummy stalks and waved broad, fibrous leaves. A traveler leaving the beaten road found himself chin high in a rank growth [of] blue and yellow blooms....

When I was a boy, the explorer could start from anywhere out on the prairie and move in any direction and find a slough. In the center, an open pond of dead water. Then a border of swaying cat-tails, tall rushes, reedy blades, sharp as razors, out to the upland, spangles with the gorgeous blue and yellow flowers of the virgin plain....

A million frogs sang together each evening, and a billion mosquitoes came out to forage when the breeze died away…. The sloughs have gone, after years of drainage and the leveling processes of cultivation, the five-acre pond on which we skated is just a gentle swale in a dry and tidy cornfield (47-49).

This passage shows the dense beauty of the prairies that used to cover much of the plains around Kentland, Indiana. Ade’s comments about the needs of the early settlers to preserve a section of this wild beauty for future generations show his admiration for nature. They also demonstrate what little of this beauty was left in his time for people to see and that he wished that the generations after him could have seen it.

The same desire is expressed in Doc’ Horne, a book about Chicago. The main character describes what it used to be like in Indiana in the time of the prairies:

Down in Indiana, where I used to live, we had black prairie mud. At this time of year it would take four horses to pull a two wheeled cart with a man and a sack of flour in it…. The roads had been practically impassable for weeks, but they were drying rapidly, especially on top. You have doubtless seen, gentlemen, a muddy road with this dry crust. At intervals along the road there were deep rucks, or “mud holes,” as they were called…. In those days a mud hole was called a “loblolly” (5-6).

Another theme that existed in Ade’s writings was the yearning to escape the city and get away to nature. Four of Ade’s works present this theme. In Babel, Stories of Chicago mentions the joy of moving out of the city and near to the prairies:

The breezes came freely from across the prairies. Over toward the trolley track the white and blue flowers of spring peeped timidly from the new grass. Mrs. Buell gave every symptom of delight. She knew that she would fall in love with the place. The children would have a play-ground at last. Mr. Buell predicted that they whole family would become brown and heavy from living in the suburbs (185).

In “A Breathing-Place and Play-Ground,” from Chicago Stories, Ade mentions a park in between the city streets that is a “patch of nature almost undisturbed” (84-85). The trees there are ancient and gnarled, and provided a soothing atmosphere for Ade’s characters.

A gentle environment was exactly what the two main characters were seeking in “What They Had Lain Out for Their Vacation,” from the book People You Know. In this fable, a couple spends weeks planning for a trip into the country. In the beginning, they plan to go to many places in nature, but cannot decide where to go. They wanted to go to a resort where “Boats and Minnows were free and Nature was ever smiling” (13). The husband wanted to go where “he could penetrate the Deep Woods, where the Foot of Man had never Trod and the Black Bass came to the surface and begged to be taken out” (13). These two places show that the couple in the story were looking for the shelter of the peace of nature and to escape city life.

In “The Unhappy Financier and the Discontented Rube,” from Breaking into Society, the same sentiment is found. Here, a rich man from the city escapes into the country for some well deserved rest and explores the wilderness:

He wandered away from the Hotel and took to a quiet Country Lane, and soon he was in the Deep Woods. The Silence was broken only by the Rustles of Leaves, the tapping of the Woodpeckers, and the occasional stunt of some feathered Warbler....

“This is where Man really belongs,” sighed the track-sore financier. “What an artificial and profitless Life we lead among the Sky-Scrapers…” (123-24).

In the Hoosier Handbook and Guide for the Returning Exile, Ade writes about the counties of Indiana, as seen through a train trip across the state. Since this book was written while the author was returning to Indiana, it provides a good view of what Indiana looked like during the time of publication, as well as what was happening ecologically to the various regions during that time. Ade states of Indiana,

“Note the smiling faces, the added tinge of green to the luxuriant vegetation, the simple majesty of the buildings that decorate the broad sweeps of the Hoosier company and the peculiar turquoise blue of the sky--like Italy, only more so” (6).

Soon, in the book, the dredging of the Grand Calumet River is noted: “Even now the Government is estimating the cost of dredging the river to a width of 200 feet and a depth sufficient to carry the great lakes boats” (10). This type of dredging would destroy the river ecosystem and alter the landscape.
Other alterations to the landscape are also mentioned in the Hoosier Handbook, such as the use of tiles. Tiles are used to drain swamps and other wetlands for agricultural purposes. In the book, Ade mentions a region near Terhune known for its tile production:

“Nearly every town in this favored region has a tile factory. The ovens for baking the tile look like cook ovens. The drainage tile made at these yards is used by farmers for carrying water away from the low spots on their land. With the tile drainage and good roads the farmer no longer fears wet weather” (37).

This passage shows the attitude of victory over nature that many agriculturists felt at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Ade, in another part of the Hoosier Handbook, again shows this attitude. On converting a natural area to farmland, he writes, “this region of sand hills and reclaimed marshes is being cut up into truck farms and promises to be very productive” (19).

The final theme that accompanied Ade’s writings about Indiana covered the topic of pollution. With the onset of the industrial era, pollution was something that was becoming more apparent to the public as the filth, oil, and soot began to assault city life. A classic description of the pollution exists in “The Feud,” from the book More Aces, set in downtown Chicago. “In front of the police station was a dismal slime. A fine rain beat into the black puddles and helped to soften the islands of mud. Dripping trolley-cars went by, hissing in disgust, the dirty water lifted by the wheels” (1).

Other descriptions of the pollution of the city are found in Chicago Stories fables. “A Plantation Dinner at Aunt Mary’s” tells of “wet and drifting snowflakes [that] lost themselves as soon as they reached the black paste spread underfoot” (119). In "Life on a River Tug," a person could not get away from the Chicago soot that “vomited from the stack and the dust from the bridges settles down and peppers the potatoes and frosts the butter” (16).

The city streets were not the only parts of Chicago affected by the rampant pollution in Chicago Stories. The Chicago River was also affected, as Ade writes in “Life on a River Tug” about “the black, oily river [that] streams gently beneath the warm sun and does not charm any of the senses” (16). In “Olaf Lindstrom Goes Fishing,” the pollution is so terrible that “[t]he city was a wall of black from north to south, with a few towers, spires and the huge bulk of a great building or two extending into a murky blue sky…” (142).

While George Ade was a prolific humorist writer of the early 1900s, he addressed some very serious issues pertaining to the environment, including the pollution of the city and a craving to escape to a more natural setting. He devoted an entire work to creating a picture of Indiana’s landscape, as captured in a single day during a train trip. Ade's writing has provided later generations with a clear view of Indiana’s ecology before, during, and after the settlers came and its ecology after the industrial revolution altered the land.



Ade, George. Doc’ Horne: A Story of the Streets and Town. Chicago: Herbert S. Stone and Co., 1899.

---. Breaking into Society. New York: Harper Brothers Publishers, 1904.

---. Chicago Stories. Ed. Meine, Franklin J. Chicago: The Henry Regnery Co., 1963.

---. Forty Modern Fables. New York: R.H. Russell, 1901.

---, ed. Hoosier Handbook and Guide for the Returning Exile. Chicago: Indiana Society of Chicago, 1911.

---. In Babel, Stories of Chicago. New York: McClure, Phillips, and Co., 1903.

---. More Aces. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1925.

---. People You Know. New York: R.H. Russell, 1903.

---. Single Blessedness and Other Observations. New York: Double Day, Page and Co., 1922.

Kelly, Fred C. George Ade, Warmhearted Satirist. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1947.


George Ade

George Ade Quotations

Ade, George

Inventory of the George Ade Papers, 1871-1970