This summer, our family reunion was held in Osceola, Wisconsin - since we would be close to a few of the Little House historical sites, we planned a road trip to Pepin, WI; Burr Oak, IA, and Walnut Grove, MI.Replica of the Little House in the Big Woods, birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pepin, WI
If you are interested in planning a LHP road trip, I highly recommend William Anderson’s “The Little House Guidebook.” It is a starting point for planning a LHP adventure (we have already visited Almanzo’s childhood homestead in upstate New York (you can read that post here).
You may also want to secure a copy of Laura’s autobiography.
Our first stop was Burr Oak, Iowa. The Ingalls family lived in Burr Oak from 1876 to 1877. The family moved from Walnut Grove, MN to Burr Oak, IA after grasshoppers destroyed the Minnesota crops. Grace was born in Burr Oak. This childhood home is not mentioned in any of Laura’s stories, however it is mentioned in her autobiography and William Anderson has written a book about this “lost era”. Later in life, Laura was asked why this period was not included in her stories. Her usual response is something along the lines of - what I wrote about in my stories was the truth, but I couldn’t write all the truth.
After about a year in Burr Oak, the family returned to Walnut Grove to resume farming.
In Burr Oak, the Ingalls family lived in a small room in the Masters Hotel where they owned/operated with the Steadmans. Coincidentally, our visit coincided with “Laura Days” so the small town was very crowded and there was a tour bus group visiting the site at the same time. We enjoyed a guided tour of the hotel which covers the lower dining/living quarters, main floor, and upper guest rooms.
The Ingalls family lived in the lower room. This is where Laura, Mary, and Carrie would have recovered from measles.
From Burr Oak, we drove up the beautiful Mississippi River to La Crosse, Wisconsin where we stayed overnight with the goal of visiting Pepin - the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867). In Pepin, we visited the Laura Ingalls Museum. It is a small museum with a variety of historical records and objects covering the “Little House in the Big Woods” period. There is a covered wagon and a model school house. Our visit was self-guided.
About seven miles from the museum, there is a historical marker and replica cabin on the property which was owned by the Ingalls family.
After our family reunion, we headed southwest to Mankato, Minnesota which was an important center in frontier life and a town where Pa often had to make deliveries. In the television series, Mr. Edwards was synonymous with Mankato and saloons. We stayed in Mankato one night before travelling to Walnut Grove which is about 1.5 hours from Mankato.
On route to Walnut Grove, we passed through Sleepy Eye, which in the television series, was where the Ingalls family would catch the stage coach and where Mary and Adam established their school.
At Walnut Grove, we met up with Rachel from Nest Full of Eggs and enjoyed the museum with her two youngest.
Of the three sites we visited, Walnut Grove has the largest collection and plenty of interactive activities for younger visitors. I thought the museum did a fantastic job recreating the dug out home. There is also a jail cell, general store, school house and chapel.
In addition to many personal items belonging to the Ingalls family, the museum’s collection has a vast assortment of props and collectibles from the television series. The mantel from the television set is shown below.
A close up of the replica mantel where the initials CI were engraved and the porcelain figurine shepherdess, Ma’s dearest possession.
The museum’s gift shop did not disappoint. I picked up some patches for our blanket and a charm bracelet of the historic sites.
One of our family’s favourite characters from the television series is Miss Beadle (Charlotte Stewart). She stitches up bags for sale in the museum gift shop and they are autographed, but they don’t smell like lemon verbena.
We concluded our visit to Walnut Grove by visiting the banks of plum creek. The dug out home and the wood frame house are long gone, but you can share a moment at the site where Laura would have fished. The property is actually privately-owned working acreage.
I have posted photos on my flickr stream (Walnut Grove, Pepin, Burr Oak), but I think this post captures some of the highlights. Literary road trips are my favourite and this was a special one. In the future, we hope to see the other Ingalls sites in South Dakota, Kansas and Missouri – not certain when we might get there, but it is always good to have a bucket list.
Thanks for stopping by and I hope you are having a wonderful summer!