Wrapping up our Laura road trip was a stop at Walnut Grove. We technically passed through here on the way to South Dakota with our visit to Plum Creek. However, I wanted to see the pageant in De Smet AND Walnut Grove, which meant splitting our visit to Minnesota in half. First Plum Creek on the way out and Walnut Grove and the pageant on the way back.
Walnut Grove is an interesting place for Laura history. It is where Laura history and Laura fiction intersect. Though the Ingalls only lived in Minnesota for little more than 3 years, the TV show’s setting, all nine seasons of it, took place in Walnut Grove. Despite the fact that the show was filmed on a ranch in California, Walnut Grove, Minnesota preserves much of the show’s history in the museums of the little town.
One of the first things you’ll see to let you know you’re in Walnut Grove is their water tower. Follow that off the highway and across the railroad tracks and you’re greeted by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. This is quite a big museum that spans several buildings laid out to look like a mini town. You start in the gift shop and book store. I have to say, that I was impressed by most of the gift shops and book stores at the Laura museums I visited. This one had a particularly large book selection that I enjoyed. In the museum buildings you got to see a good mix of Laura history and the TV show history.
Several weekends a year, you can see Walnut Grove’s pageant, Fragments of a Dream. It’s quite an elaborate production and worth watching! Since 1978 there had only been 2 times where the show had been rained out. The show we attended happened to have been the 3rd. We got to see half of the show before some wicked thunderstorms rolled through. The show keeps a keen eye on weather reports. They hustled a bit through the last scene before intermission then let everyone know of the impending storm(which we could guess was coming by the distant lightening and random drops of rain). We were given enough notice to make an orderly exit to our vehicles and for the show to quickly clean up and then the storm hit. Before we made it out of the parking lot it began to rain, and by the time we were on the highway to our hotel the storm was in full force and it was quite scary to drive in. I’ve been in a lot of storms, but there isn’t anything quite like a prairie storm!
That wrapped up all the Laura related parts of our trip, and now we just had to finish the drive home. It was one of my all-time favorite trips and I’m looking forward to going again with the kids are a little bit older. Maybe next time I’ll get to see the whole show in Walnut Grove! Our next trip though, will be to visit Mansfield, MO where Laura and Almanzo lived out the rest of their days. I can’t wait!
De Smet, South Dakota was where we stayed the longest on our Laura road trip. This makes perfect sense considering the Ingalls lived here for quite awhile, and it is where more than half of the Little House book series takes place. There were also many things to see and places to visit while here, including seeing the town’s annual Laura pageant, which happened to be ‘By the Shores of Silver Lake,’ when we were there.
When planning this visit, I knew I wanted to stay at The Prairie House Manor Bed & Breakfast. This bed and breakfast used to be Banker Ruth’s home, who was mentioned several times in Laura’s books. It is beautiful and centrally located to many Laura stops in town. Not to mention that our hosts were very gracious, hospitable, and helpful. It was a real pleasure to stay there. It is family friendly and I loved all the little Laura touches that were sprinkled throughout the property! The breakfast was a real treat and the kids LOVED their pancake men(just like Laura had in Little House in the Big Woods)for breakfast. It is also just a few doors down from Ma and Pa Ingalls’ last home!
In De Smet there is no forgetting that you are in Laura territory! You are able to see the Surveyor’s house that the Ingalls stayed in when they first arrived in South Dakota, the school that Laura attended, a replica of Brewster School where Laura first taught, Ma, Pa, and Mary’s final home, the Ingalls’ homestead site, the cemetery where several Ingalls were laid to rest, and more. Going on the historic home tour was very informative and a lot of fun! On this guided tour you see the Surveyor’s house, the First School, Brewster School, and Ma and Pa’s house. It also includes a stop to the gift shop, a small museum and visit to their Discovery Center for the kids with lots of fun hands on activities.
Laura’s familie’s homestead site is a short drive away. It spans acres and is maintained as kind of a living museum. There is a wonderful gift shop with a mini theater for viewing documentary type videos, then you can can walk around the premises and visit different buildings that highlight different aspects of pioneer living. There are also many activities for you and the kids, including driving buggies and covered wagons and a lesson at the school house!
Our final event in De Smet was to see their Laura pageant, which changes each year, and was By the Shores of Silver Lake this year. It’s an outdoor show with sets, lights, and sound. The actors come from around the area to perform. It was a beautiful, if buggy, night on the prairie to see Laura come to life right on the land where her family homesteaded.
One of our last stops on our way out of town was the De Smet Cemetery where some of the Ingalls family and friends are buried, such as: Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, Grace, Laura and Almanzo’s baby son, Mr. Boast, and Rev. Brown. Finally, we would begin the final leg of our journey and head back east toward home. But not without a stop in a little town called Walnut Grove first….
After our brief stop in Pepin, Wisconsin, we continued on our Laura journey to Minnesota. This included a stop at Sod House on the Prairie . This was a really fun stop! Here you can see several different types of housing that was common on the prairie during Laura’s time, including types of sod housing like the Ingalls lived in at Plum Creek. I remember when reading, On the Banks of Plum Creek, that Ma lamented at having to live in a dugout. Though Laura is a master of description, I still couldn’t wrap my brain around how this whole thing worked. Sod House on the Prairie filled in some of those gaps for me.
The sod houses had their challenges, but looked surprisingly more livable than I had imagined. It was a hot sunny day when we visited, but the prairie winds kept you feeling cool and inside the sod houses with their packed dirt floors, shade, and open windows it was even cooler. We were the only ones visiting at the time we were there, so we could take our time checking everything out at our leisure. Though this site does not operate as a bed and breakfast anymore(what a neat experience that would have been!), there are bonnets and aprons to help you get into character during your visit and to snap a few fun photos. The homes are furnished with period items to try out and explore as well. The kids loved looking through the braille books like Mary’s, sitting at the tables, trying out the beds, and climbing ladders to look in lofts. One of their favorites was encountering the free roaming cats and kittens that have made the houses their homes.
After Sod House on the Prairie we went to Plum Creek to see where the Ingalls’ dugout was! This was my favorite stop of the whole road trip…..I think. 🙂 It was amazing to wade and play in Plum Creek, knowing that we were truly walking in Laura’s foot prints! The creek is on a farm that is maintained in its natural condition. They have provided a turnaround, garbage cans and few picnic benches for visitors near the creek, and a foot bridge over the creek to reach the dugout site, which is marked by a sign. Other than that, you are welcome to climb down into the ankle deep creek and play in nature to your heart’s content. The water is clear, the trees are beautiful and provide a quiet little retreat where you can walk in the waters and look for pretty rocks or find minnows and frogs. We stayed here for a couple hours just enjoying ourselves. We packed a lunch as well to munch on. For that, we walked across the foot bridge to read the sign marking the dugout site and to see the beautiful prairie behind it and try to imagine where Ingalls’ beautiful house may have been. (To see many more of our pictures from this stop click here to see a previous post.)
Following our stop at Plum Creek, it was on to De Smet, South Dakota!
This particular step has been a long time in the making! I always have 5-6 ladies in my back pocket that I’m working on and as circumstances allow, one rises to the surface to be next for the blog. Laura has been in the works for 7 months at least and finally it’s her turn to shine! This is one BIG step that included months of activities, reading, planning, and miles and miles of road tripping! It’s been amazing and the whole family has enjoyed every bit of it. I can’t wait to share more, but for now, some pictures of my babies playing in THE Plum Creek in Walnut Grove, MN and prairie grasses right here in IL, as inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder!