Visiting the place where Laura Ingalls Wilder spent many of her years sure differs from what I saw when I watched “Little House on the Prairie” as a kid. We visited the actual Ingalls homestead near DeSmet, SD.
The television series, which ran nine seasons from 1974 until 1983, primarily took place in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Actually, many of the events that occurred in the lives of the Ingalls happened in South Dakota.
“Little House on the Prairie” was a series of books that were the inspiration for the television series, chronicling the lives of Laura Ingalls Wilder, her family and friends. Laura – nicknamed “Half Pint” by her father Charles – became an author in her 60s, as she started documenting her family’s history.
The family moved several times, living in places such as Walnut Grove, Burr Oak (Iowa) and Pepin, Wisconsin. Laura was born in Wisconsin.
Charles Ingalls – Pa – sought a homestead to raise the family on. They chose the property near DeSmet. The family had to develop the land over a five-year period to gain ownership, according to the national Homestead Act passed in the 1860s by Congress and signed into law by President Lincoln.
The current homestead visitors site shares stories about the Ingalls and their friends. Ma – Caroline Ingalls – loved her “little house on the prairie.” Charles built the house in stages. The first year, it was nothing more than a kitchen. The entire family lived in the enclosed quarters.
The following year, Ingalls added on to the house, eventually creating two bedrooms for the parents and children. A family room was also added. Here, Ma would iron clothes and sew. The family could spend time together in the living room.
Today, the replica house hosts tours, as well as allowing kids to wash clothes and hang them on the clothesline to dry. The reenactor portraying Ma Ingalls mentioned to us that kids beg to wash the clothes. She offered us that opportunity, but we passed.
The DeSmet homestead offers visitors opportunities to check out several old farm and town buildings. A barn topped with hay – similar to one Pa built – is home to chickens and a calf named Bright. A hand-powered water pump is located nearby.
Visitors can debate which type of house was better – a sod house, built into the side of a hill, or a shanty house built as a standalone building. We found the sod house considerably cooler on a hot and humid summer day. The shanty provided little ventilation and the heat was unbearable.
Visitors can take a covered wagon ride to the old schoolhouse, about a quarter mile away from the main barn. Our ride was guided by two mules.
The one-room schoolhouse was an interesting visit. Children are encouraged to don some of the clothing props so they can look like kids from the 1800s. The “teacher” leading the visit explained what school was like for the Ingalls kids – Mary, Laura, Carrie and Grace.
Later, we took a stroll to an old church on the property. The church – like the other older buildings – was relocated to the homestead in lieu of being razed. The Ingalls Homestead helps history live on beyond the family’s history.
The DeSmet area has more Ingalls and Wilder locations in addition to the homestead. North of town, the Wilder homestead is recognized with a highway historical marker. This was the spot where Laura and her husband, Almanzo, lived.
Guests can spend the night on the homestead. You can rent a small covered wagon to sleep in. They’re reasonably priced. We want to return and spend the night.
The Ingalls Wilders lived in town, as well. Their house is an attraction. We didn’t get the chance to stop by while it was open. I guess that’s a reason for a return trip.
Just outside town, the Ingalls family is buried next to each other at the local cemetery. Caroline, Mary, Carrie and Grace have contemporary headstones. Charles’ grave marker is a tall one, weathered by age and the elements. Laura and Almanzo are buried in Mansfield, Missouri.
The series of “Little House” books brought to the small screen the Ingalls family for millions to watch and follow (and maybe a young boy developed a crush on Mary Ingalls – portrayed by Melissa Sue Anderson). But, to see where the family lived in real life was impressive. We love visiting locations that have historical significance.
For more information on the Ingalls Homestead, please visit www.ingallshomestead.com.
Disclaimer: Thank you to the Ingalls Homestead Visitors Center for the complimentary admission. However, all views and opinions are ours.