Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Little House Roadtrip: Day 2 in De Smet

I left De Smet, although not before doing the full tour of the town.  Although many of the buildings on Calumet St (The main st)  are not original, you do get a real sense of the town and there are many original buildings including Fullers Hardware Building, and the shop where Laura worked for the milliner Miss Bell.  Pa's building is no longer there, but I did see it's location, as well as the locations of many of the buildings in the books.
Downtown De Smet

De Smet currently has a population of about 11,000 and has some light industry in addition to tourism. However tourism in South Dakota is clearly a highly seasonal business as almost nothing was open at the end of April and hardly any other tourists in evidence.  A large part of the current economy is still farming.

Billboard outside De Smet

I went back out to the Homestead location, where as well as the marker there is a commercial 'Laura's Living Prarie' place.  In April it was all shut up but I was able to go and wander around the buildings, many of which were unlocked.

There is an original claim shanty (not the Ingalls) that was relocated from elsewhere. It's just tiny, and its hard to imagine the Ingalls and their 4 daughters fitting into the space. In the books there are lots of descriptions of Ma fitting beds for them all into small spaces.

Claim Shanty

There is also a dugout similar to one which features in an earlier book in the series "On the Banks of Plum Creek".

Dugout reproduction
 It was good to see how snug it was in the dugout - probably cool in the summer but almost impossible to keep clean and very dark.

Dugout: Interior
You can clearly see the stacked sod 'bricks' that were used to build the dugout and the canvas protecting the inhabitants from what must have been a constant trickle of dirt from the grass-covered roof.

There is also a reproduction of the Ingalls homestead which morphed over the years from the original claim shanty into a 'real house'.

Homestead reproduction: Interior
 Its been built from descriptions in the books, as well as the plans that Pa submitted for the various enhancements to his home. It was really charming, also furnished according to the descriptions in the books, and I stood in the doorway and looked out on a scene probably little changed from Laura's day.

View from the doorway
 I also went out to the site of Laura and Almanzo's first homestead. Nothing left here except a few trees, maybe the remnants of his tree claim.

Laura and Almanzo Homestead site
Laura and Almanzo lived here for the first 4 years of their marriage, a time of hardship and misfortune. This is documented in the book 'The First Four Years' which is a sadly realistic portrait of what must have been the fortunes of many settlers.  Almanzo and Laura lost crops, their house, and their son while they lived on this spot.

Before I left I called in at the De Smet cemetary where Ma, Pa, Mary, Carrie, and Grace are all buried. Laura and Almanzo are buried in their final home area in Missouri. I also spotted the grave of Robert and Ella Boast who appear several times in the books.

Finally I left De Smet and headed back East for Walnut Grove and my next stop.

No comments: