Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Little House Roadtrip: Day One

At the end of April I had a business trip to Rochester, Minnesota. On a previous visit in 2009 I visited Pepin, Wisconsin, to visit the Little House in the Big Woods: location of Laura Ingalls Wilder's first book in the series based on her family's pioneering experience.

The chance to visit Minnesota when it's not usually snowing was too good to pass the opportunity of a road trip to see some of the other locations of the book.  I planned a weekend road trip to visit the location of the House on Plum Creek, Walnut Grove MN, and also De Smet, SD which is the location of the last 4 books in the little house series.   For my birthday I received a copy of 'The Annotated Prairie Girl' which provides a lot of the historical background and context to the books and I read it avidly prior to my visit.

I drove on Thursday afternoon from IBM Rochester to De Smet. I had booked a couple of nights at the Prairie Manor Bed and Breakfast. The Prairie House was formerly home of Banker Ruth (who appears in the Long Winter as the financial backer for the 'wheat trip').

Friday morning I presented myself at the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum for the tour. The 3 of us, 4 including the guide then spent the entire morning visiting buildings around De Smet.

Bursting with excitement in De Smet!

We started off at the Surveyors house, below, which is very memorable from 'The Shores of Silver Lake' from Laura's description of running ahead to explore this 'huge' dwelling, which of course is tiny! Once I saw the claim shanty and dugout later in my trip it was clear why Laura though the Surveyors house was so luxurious. The family lived here for 5 months through their first winter in On the Shores of Silver Lake - which is probably my favourite book of the series.

The Surveyors House

Rather gratifyingly the house was just as she described and really unchanged, especially the pantry which is such a vivid passage in the book. I assume that as the Ingalls family were poor, that they often went hungry, hence Laura's descriptions of food and food-related topics throughout the books. It's not in its original location on Silver Lake, but has been moved into town along with some other buildings. 

The next building is a reproduction of the Brewer School where Laura taught her first semester of school.

Reproduction of the Brewster School
Sadly no photos were allowed inside any of the buildings, but even from the outside you can see how small this building was. Inside it was clear how cold it must have been in the depths of winter, I was shivering on a bright April day, and I was well wrapped up.
De Smet's first school is also located at the tour center. This was described in the books many times as being enormous and for some events the entire town gathered for the Spelling Bee, Singing School and other social events.  
De Smet First School
I particularly enjoyed seeing the pairs of desks, one of which was helpfully loosely screwed to the floor so you could rock like Laura did when she got sent home from school!

Ma and Pa's last house in De Smet
The final house on the tour was the house Pa built when he and Ma retired from the homestead. It was an odd house with the distinct aspect of having been added on to (which of course it was!). I really got a good feel for the family from this house (although I hadn't really planned on visiting it as its not mentioned in the books) but it was the only place furnished with the Ingalls' things.

It was also 2 doors down from the Bed and Breakfast where I stayed. If you are visiting De Smet I would highly recommend the Prairie House. ( )

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