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Rachael Walker

In this special series, children's literacy consultant Rachael Walker and many of the authors, parents, and educators she’s met and worked with talk about how books have changed their lives, how to bring books to life for young readers, and how to enrich kids’ lives with good books. (Also visit Rachael at her blog, Belle of the Book.)

Little Journey’s End

May 18, 2015

This is it! Our last Laura Ingalls Wilder landmark — her beloved home at Rocky Ridge Farm. It seems fitting to end our Little Journey here, where Laura and Almanzo ended their own wanderings in 1894.

The Wilders originally purchased 40 acres in the heart of the Ozark hills. Their success with poultry, apples, corn, wheat, oats and more eventually grew their farm to 200 acres. Not much farming was happening during our visit, but The Wilder Home Association is working to re-establish Laura’s vegetable garden — with seeds from the nearby Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, another must-visit spot in Mansfield.

A garden would be lovely, but our real interest is seeing how the Wilders made their home and where Laura wrote her books. The tour of the farmhouse (and the Rock House) comes with a guide, but we all tend to lag behind, making our visit pretty much self-guided. So we’ll let everyone on the Little Journey offer his or her thoughts on Laura’s dream house. (Thoughts only though, as photography is not allowed in the house unless you are the First Lady).

Laura Ingalls Wilder Farmouse

Janet: For those of us who are sixty or older, the place felt very much like home. Laura’s kitchen offered a unique historic perspective with both an electric range and a wood-burning cook stove. I could understand Laura’s choices in this matter, as one appliance offers convenience while the other offers comfort.

Laura and Almanzo’s bedroom is right off the kitchen. The bedroom was a converted sun porch, which also offered warmth and character. The farmhouse was built a few rooms at a time over 17 or so years, but it isn’t haphazard and feels imbued with Laura’s personality.

Breece: Because Laura was so short the counters in the kitchen were built for her 4'11" height. We’d seen her tiny dress in the museum, but in her kitchen you could really see how she was a “half-pint.” Their daughter must have been small too. The secret stairs to the upstairs (where we can’t go) are so tiny and narrow.

The house isn’t very fancy but pretty nice for an old house. There are a lot of little hidden corners, like the alcove for a library in the living room and the music room with an organ and the latest technology — a Victrola record player.

Avery: Almanzo was a pretty good builder. The “window” between the kitchen and the dining room with a sliding thing-a-ma-doodle to get hot food to the table is a cool invention.

I think Almanzo really loved Laura and made this house really comfortable for her. But their bedroom doesn’t look very comfortable. Why do they have separate single beds?

Rachael: It is a little hard for me to get an image of Laura the writer here. Though it is very easy to embrace Laura the homemaker and to see her as a social creature given the warm, inviting living room and the cozy kitchen for entertaining.

Her writing desk, tucked in a small nook behind her bedroom, doesn’t look like the most comfortable place to write. I see her instead at the kitchen table or curled up on the window seat in the living room with her writing tablet. That’s where I’d be.

But we can’t sit or touch anything here. Since Laura's death in 1957, the Wilder Home Association has worked to preserve it essentially as she left it. But she was 90 when she died. Is how she left it how she really liked it? For instance, our guide couldn’t tell us if Laura had selected and hung the various paintings throughout the house. Some may have been Rose’s choices during the time she lived there after relocating her parents to the Rock House — a new home on the property she had built for their comfort and retirement in 1928.

The Rock House is a great example of how Laura could put up with something she didn’t like for quite a long time. To please their daughter, she and Almanzo lived there until Rose left Rocky Ridge to move to the east coast. Our tour of Rocky Ridge includes a visit to the Rock House, which isn’t far but there’s not a walkable path. We head to the car to follow our guide down the road.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Rock House

The Rock House tour is a fairly recent addition. The Wilders had sold it after they moved out in 1936. Many, many years later, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association was able to purchase and restore it.

It is lovely house, though feels quite empty. The furnishings are limited, in part because much of it returned to the farmhouse when Laura and Almanzo chose to go back there. There was no doubt about its being a modern residence — as Avery pointed out, the bathroom didn’t have a pulley to flush the toilet. Every modern convenience of the time was evident, but despite the beauty and sleekness of the house, we all agreed when Avery asked, “Why did Rose spend all that time and money to build this house when they (Laura and Almanzo) were happy in the other one? It was a nice thought, but they didn’t need it.”

Maybe though, in some small way, Laura did need it. The Rock House is where the Little House books began.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Rock House Signage

And where our Little Journey ends. Though Janet and Avery plan to take in Laura’s Memories, an outdoor musical pageant in Mansfield, our walk in Laura’s footsteps is over. We got to play along the banks of Plum Creek, sweep out a dugout, wander the Big Slough, and learn to twist hay. We also learned a lot about our pioneering ancestors and how to better understand and interpret their legacy. And we got to delight once again in the characters and stories that Laura Ingalls Wilder created.

Learning about our pioneering ancestors

If you’re after similar delights, want to dig into history or are looking for a unique family experience, consider a trip of your own! We leave you with these tips to help you plan a Little Journey you’ll never forget.

  1. Read the Little House books again before you go, read them along the way or listen to the audiobooks as you journey.
  2. Bring an ice chest to make for healthier and more economical snacking along way. And for picnics along Plum Creek!
  3. Stop to see oddities. Roadtrippers was great for helping us find the weird stuff along the way, like the world’s largest boot in Red Wing, Minnesota. It was also good for locating delicious pie and frozen custard.
  4. Biggest Boot in Red Wing, MN

  5. Though we loved the Wilder Inn, don’t even try to drink the water in Tracy, Minnesota.
  6. In DeSmet, South Dakota, we recommend Laura’s Loft at the Heritage House Bed & Breakfast. Having a living room is really nice and it is good now and then to give everyone some privacy and space.
  7. Don’t buy every bonnet you see, but if you really like a particular souvenir, get it! While most of the gift shops associated with Laura Ingalls Wilder landmarks carry similar items, quality and price vary considerably. Highest quality items we found were in De Smet; best bargains at the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.
  8. Take in a show! Most of the landmark sites have some kind of Laura Ingalls Wilder related theater at very reasonable prices. These local productions often have just short runs during the summer, but many of the pageants have been running for decades.
  9. Use what you see and learn to have conversations about story and history. Seeing the real-life history alongside Wilder’s books opened up discussions about gender issues, stereotypes, technology, and politics.
  10. Allow plenty of time to get hands-on at museums. Dressing up and playing house, store and school was some of the most relaxing fun we had.
  11. Blog, make a scrapbook or a video diary about your Little Journey. One of the best parts is living it all over again.

Little Journey travelers

Thank you Breece, Rachael, Avery, and Janet for sharing your incredible summer journey with us!

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"A book is a gift you can open again and again." — Garrison Keillor