I’m not exactly sure when I became
obsessed fascinated with the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but I’ve had a relationship (in my head) with her for as long as I can remember.
Just 60 Miles
Sitting on the shelf in my living room, there is a collection of 30+ books either written by Laura or written about her. When I realized our planned Route 66 was going to take us just 60 miles from the Laura Ingalls Wilder historic home and museum in Mansfield, MO – well, it was a no-brainer.
Meeting Laura Ingalls Wilder
Before meeting with our docent, we bought our tickets to tour the home and watched a brief introductory video. It’s an awesome feeling when you are standing in the moment of a long-time wish and I wanted to soak up every moment. As I stepped through the kitchen door I stepped back in time, for about 2 minutes, and then it hit me – the whines and fussing of a naughty rugrat in a stroller.
Oh no, no, no, I didn’t drive this far, to meet Laura, to have to listen to this little squirt for the next hour, no way. First, I whispered to Abi that I waited most of my adult life to be there and I was so not going to put up with this, and then I whispered to the docent that we were going back to the museum and would take a different tour. I explained to the woman behind the desk why we wanted to be on another tour and she was very nice about it, even apologized saying it was something they dealt with every day.
The House that Laura & Almanzo Built
Anyway, we took the next tour and it was great. I felt lucky that I got to see the first two rooms twice. Unfortunately, the upstairs is closed to tours. The house was in pristine condition and just as it was when Laura passed away, (1957) with her notes and stationary on the dining room table. The rock fireplace, the little library, Laura’s writing desk, the furniture made by Almanzo, it was all there. I could have spent 1/2 the day taking in every detail but of course they keep you moving.
Pa’s Fiddle & Laura’s Lap Desk
After the tour we went back and browsed the museum and it was amazing to see all of the things I have read about for years. Some of the pieces were in such good condition, such as Pa’s fiddle, which was well over 100 years old. Laura’s lap desk built by Almanzo that traveled with them to Missouri, in which the $100 bill that was used to purchase their farm had become wedged between two pieces of wood and out of sight. It was all there. I’m always in such awe when a family preserves their history.
The Little Rock House
About a mile from the main house sits the little modern rock house that Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, built for her parents.
Taken from a plaque on the property
“In 1928, after living abroad for several years, Rose Wilder Lane returned to her childhood home on Rocky Ridge Farm. With proceeds from her writing Rose built her parents a modern house. The keys were presented to Laura and Almanzo at Christmas, and Rose continued to live in the white farmhouse. By 1936 Rose had left Missouri for New York City. Her parents then returned to their original home. This part of the farm was sold. In 1990, the Wilder Association purchased the property. After restoration, the house was dedicated in 1997.”
*Note: Did you know that Rose Wilder Lane was actually highly regarded in the world of journalism? Rose was actually getting ready to leave for Vietnam to cover the war when she passed away.
Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder
One of the best books I’ve read about Laura’s life was Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Woman Behind the Legend by John E. Miller. I think it presents a good factual view of her life. Laura was well into her 60’s when she started writing The Little House series of books and Rose was instrumental in editing the books and working with Laura to get them published. There are differing opinions about what role Rose actually took in bringing the books to life, and about the sometimes strained relationship between Laura and her daughter – both strong women in their own right – and I think the author presents a fair and objective perspective.
Update (2020): Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder is an outstanding biography and a recipient of the Pulizer Prize in 2018. I highly recommend the book.
From the 1860’s to the 1950’s
What fascinates me most about Laura is that she lived in such a time of change in this country. She walked in two centuries, from the 1860’s to the 1950’s. Think of the modernization of the world she witnessed and wrote about. From traveling in a covered wagon, to driving a car, to flying in an airplane.
There was a television series based on the life of Laura as a girl. However, pretty much after the first season the story lines were all Hollywood hype. Most of what was on the show never happened. There is a much better made for TV movie produced by Disney that presents a more factual story line.
So that about wraps up our side trip to Mansfield, MO – a quaint little town in the Ozarks – and the home of one of my top 5 favorite people I’d invite to dinner. To walk where Laura Ingalls Wilder walked, was huge for me. And, once back on Route 66 we made another side trip and visited the Ingalls Homestead in Independence, Kansas, which was another walk through history. It was still well-worth visiting although there isn’t as much to see on the homestead.
If You Go:
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Historic Home & Museum
3060 Highway A
Mansfield, Missouri 65704
Mansfield, Missouri Chamber of Commerce
I’ve been there in Laura & Almanzo Wilder’s house. It’s so tiny & lovely. I love it! I also have been in Rose wilder’s home. Very nice.
Oh, I’d enjoy visiting Rose’s home. That would be interesting.
I didn’t read the books but loved the tv show Little House. All of the pics are fantastic. I stared at the one across that grassy field as was trying to escape back in time to what it looked like back in the day 🙂
I know, I did the exact same thing. I stood outside her kitchen door and tried to imagine her walking to and from their barn (which is no longer there) and Almanzo out in the fields. They really carved a beautiful farm out of the rocky ground – which is why it was called Rocky Ridge Farm. I think about buying such a property for $100 and what it must have felt like to them. So inspiring! Stay tuned, we made one other side trip to Independence, Kansas!
Great post! As a kid I loved the series and am now enjoying reading it to my own daughter. Thanks for sharing. I especially like the pictures.
Thanks Kerri ~ It’s amazing how many lives Laura’s stories have touched. I’m sure she never imagined she would reach people world-wide. And I bet Sydney would love visiting the home site!
Thanks so much for bringing the Wilder legacy to life. I’ve often wondered what the place actually looks like and now I know. Perhaps when we return to the States I’ll get a chance to visit, as you did.
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It is well-worth the opportunity to visit the home site – it’s just wonderful to walk the property and through the home; and visiting the museum is like stepping into the pages of Laura’s books. I loved our visit and I hope someday we travel close enough to visit again. Thanks for reading!
Wow! I had no idea about this history museum! I would love to go there. I devoured those books as a little girl. I’m so glad you shared this! It’s now on my list.
Excellent Selena! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and I hope you do get to visit the home site one day, it is well-worth any effort if you love Laura.
There are several Laura Ingalls sites in the Midwest plus Almanzo Wilder’s childhood home in Malone, New York.
If you search the internet for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home sites) you can find more specifics.
Laura’s family lived in Burr Oak, Iowa and the Master’s Hotel where they worked is restored along with the bank and general store. Grace was born there.
The apartment building Rose Wilder lived in when Laura visited Rose in San Francisco (West From Home) is located at the top of Russian Hill in San Francisco, however, it is not open to the public.
Along with the Little House on the Prairie TV show, there are other book series featuring characters related to Laura’s family. I believe Rose is featured in one and about Laura’s Grandmother in another. These came out after Laura passed in the 1950’s.
I’ve never read the newer series. I fear they’ll be much like the TV series…highly fictionalized.
There are several biographical books out. If you want to learn more about them check your library, bookstore, and/ or Amazon.
Thanks for sharing the information. “Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder” by John E. Miller is a very good read.
I also loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and definitely would have made the detour to visit her homes. I’m from Philadelphia, so in our historic district for every step I can imagine the founding fathers who walked there. It gives me goosebumps to think “I’m walking down the street Thomas Jefferson walked to the guest house where he wrote the Declaration of Independence.” But, Benjamin Franklin is my favorite.
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Two trips ago, when visiting D.C., we took the day and drove to VA to visit Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and the whole time I kept thinking, this is where he lived and worked – fascinating! Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong era, but then I come to my senses and realize I never would have made it, I like my amenities, but I so appreciate everything endured to bring us to where we are today.