Growing up I had favorite characters from literature-Anne of Green Gables, the American Girls, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Strawberry Girl-but none was my favorite as much as Laura Ingalls from the Little House on the Prairie series. I absolutely adored those books. While the television series of the same name was slightly inferior, one could still not like Michael Landon as Pa, although I always felt he looked too “Hollywood” to be believable as a pioneer farmer who had endured his fair share of hardships. However, when I was sick and stayed home from school, the best part was being able to watch Little House on the Prairie re-runs. Some random channel played episodes during the school day and so unless it was a holiday or I was home sick, I never got to see them.
There are countless sites in the American Midwest that are associated with Laura Ingalls (unless you’ve read the books, I don’t think the majority of people are aware of how many times Laura and her family moved when she was a child and also when she was an adult with her husband Almonzo).
This list isn’t comprehensive but here are the top Laura Ingalls’ sites I would love to visit one day, hopefully in one trip since I can’t imagine making multiple trips to the rural Midwest.
-Pepin, Wisconsin (Laura Ingalls’ birthplace)
While there doesn’t seem to be terribly much there (it is, after all, a village of less than 1,000), it seems a doable day trip from the Twin Cities in Minnesota as it appears to be a 90 minute drive. It’s the setting for the first book in the series, Little House in the Big Woods, which was always one of my favorites, especially the section on Christmas in the Big Woods. Today, visitors can pay homage to Ingalls at the Little House Wayside which contains a replica of the house that was described in the book (it was also constructed on the plot where Ingalls was born in 1867). The village of Pepin celebrates Ingalls each year with a variety of events including a “Laura look-alike” contest.
-Walnut Grove, Minnesota
From a Hollywood standpoint, Walnut Grove would best be remembered as the setting of the Little House on the Prairie television series, although the Ingalls family only lived there for a few years after settling there from Pepin. The village features the Wilder pageant, an outdoor drama based on the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Laura Ingalls Museum, and the site of the Ingalls’ family dugout home. (A dugout was another name for a sod house that featured small rooms dug into the side of a low rolling hill.) I’m betting it would be safe to say that Laura Ingalls’ face is probably plastered on every imaginable type of souvenir.
-De Smet, South Dakota
From a historical standpoint, De Smet was one of the locations where the Ingalls family lived the longest (15 years); other areas they lived in only a few years. De Smet is most famous as a setting in multiple Little House books including By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years. The bodies of Ma, Pa, and all of Laura’s siblings are buried in the De Smet cemetery. The family homestead and the school where Ingalls taught are open to visitors.
Mansfield will always be remembered as the spot where Ingalls penned her most famous books, works of children’s literature that are still as popular today as they were when they were first published more than 75 years ago. Laura, her husband Almonzo and their young daughter Rose traveled to Missouri in search of a better life after severe droughts and hardships in the Dakotas occurred. Each year the town celebrates with a Laura Ingalls Wilder festival with the town square turning into a showcase for handmade crafts, a big parade, and folk music being played from the gazebo in the park. It’s also the setting for the spinoff books, The Rose Years, which are about Ingalls’ only surviving child, Rose, and her childhood on Rocky Ridge Farm, the Wilder’s home.
As always, my list of places I would like to visit grows exponentially each passing day, but anything that has do with literature will always be a step higher than the rest, especially a beloved classic from my childhood.
Any other Little House on the Prairie fans out there besides me?