When Birdie Wilson and his two boys find a baby floating in a basket on the Ohio River, they can't begin to imagine the impact their discovery is to have on their little town of Cambria.
Accepting Birdie's dictum that the child welfare people will name her "Baby Jane Doe" and lose her in their impersonal system, the townspeople, led by Mayor Johnny White, set out to keep the baby a secret from authorities and take care of her until they find out who she is.
Surprising things take place. Cambrians who've never agreed on anything come together. Good things happen to those who become involved. Father Jacob and Pastor Mike, always competitive, work together. Granny Vogler, the town sorehead, and Ida Quattlebaum, the reclusive heir to the Quattlebaum Steamboat Company fortune, find common interests. And most important, Molly Hearst, who cares for and comes to love the baby like her own, finds love with Lynn Swafford, a deputy sheriff searching for the baby after one of Birdie's boys inadvertently reveals her existence.
In the end, Lynn's son Morgan finds an old law that allows Judge Harold Winkler to resolve the baby's status in favor of the Cambrians and Molly's daughter, Justine, uncovers evidence that the baby was among those lost when a packet boat sank on the Ohio-a hundred years ago...