Laura Land Tour: Pepin, WI

Thanks for joining me for a blog tour of Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites!  Whether you’re an armchair traveler or planning your own road trip, I hope the tour helps you envision the many places Laura called home.

Replica of the Ingalls family cabin near Pepin, WI. (Kay Klubertanz photo.)

Replica of the Ingalls family cabin near Pepin, WI. (photo by Kay Klubertanz)

Laura was born seven miles north of Pepin, in western Wisconsin’s wooded hills above the Mississippi River. Many decades later she immortalized the location in the first book in her Little House canon, Little House in the Big Woods.

Little_House_in_the_Big_woods_easyshare

1932 edition. (Wikipedia)

Today Pepin, which marks the starting point of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway (linking Laura sites across the Midwest) is often the first stop for fans.

For those steeped in the setting Laura described, the initial glimpse of the Pepin homesite can be a bit of a shock.  In my new mystery, Death on the Prairie, protagonist Chloe Ellefson and her sister are taken aback when they arrive:

Chloe felt a puppy’s tail happy wiggle inside when she saw a sign for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Wayside. She pulled into the small lot and parked.

Little House Wayside, Pepin, WI

Then the inner happy wiggle subsided. “But…where are the woods?” she asked. The Wayside was a grassy picnic area, with a replica cabin representing the home were Laura was born. The few saplings sprinkled through the grounds were too young to provide shade. Picnic tables were scattered about, most occupied by other Laura sojourners wearing sunglasses and hats.

“Evidently the Big Woods have become the Big Cornfields.” Kari’s voice was hollow.

clipping, Museum Pepin WI

Clipping showing the Wayside as it looked in 1979 during the official dedication. Death on the Prairie is set in 1983, and the landscape would have looked more stark to Chloe and Kari than it does to visitors today.

The Wayside was created on a triangle of land that had been part of a large modern farm.

countryside

Countryside beyond the Wayside.

Of course I wish that the woods remained,  but on my first visit I was soon caught up in the magic of simply being right there—the place where Laura and Mary played. I wrote a blog post about that visit titled “Looking For Laura,” a phrase I later used as name for the fictional conference Chloe attends in Death on the Prairie.

Laura fans need a place to linger, and the Wayside is important. If you can, take a picnic and give yourself a chance to savor the day.Wayside

Dedicated volunteers in Pepin have also created the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in downtown Pepin. (Open May – October.  It’s always a good idea to check hours before traveling.)

LIW Museum Pepin

Visitors can see Wilder family heirlooms and artifacts relating to local history.

Rose Wilder Lane doily

Rose Wilder Lane was Laura’s daughter.

The Pepin beach and Marina are just a few blocks away.  Although the beach area has changed dramatically since Laura was a child, it’s still a pretty place to stop and reflect.

Lake Pepin is actually a wide stretch in the Mississippi River. Historians believe that the Ingalls family crossed the ice-covered lake a bit north of Pepin (closer to Stockholm) when leaving Wisconsin.

Alfred Waud, 1874

This 1874 print by Alfred Waud suggests the local landscape as it was in Laura’s day.

If you can, take drive along the river on Highway 35, which is quite scenic. If you’re coming from the east/southeast, leave Highway 94 at Osseo and take Highway 10 west, which is also lovely.

Mississippi River backwaters near Pepin

And if you want the true Chloe experience, you can stop in Osseo for coffee and pie at the famous Norske Nook .

NorskeNookCarolHighland_lg

There are other Nook locations, but Osseo is where it all started.  (Photo by Carol Highland, Library of Congress.)

 

NorskeNookCeamCheeseMapleRaisinPie_lg

A waitress told me that the Cream Cheese-Maple-Raisin pie is one of the favorites. The things I do for research…

If you’re eager to visit Pepin, the Museum will also be open Saturday, December 5, 2015, for Pepin’s Hometown Holiday celebration.  Or, put Pepin’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Days (held annually the second full weekend in September) on your 2016 calendar. This festival is also an all-volunteer effort, and it’s charming.

DSCF0705 - Version 2

Some of the excited young “Lauras” at the 2014 event.

Or, simply wait for some soft spring day, and go relive some memories from a favorite childhood book.

KAE cabin

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15 Responses to “Laura Land Tour: Pepin, WI”

  1. Elizabeth J Says:

    I went to Pepin for the first time eight years ago. I am still disappointed that Lake Pepin isn’t actually a lake and still wondering why wasn’t this place exactly like the picture in my head?!

    Instead of stopping at Norske Nook, I made a pie from the Little House cookbook after my visit. Vinegar pie, which is billed as the poor man’s lemon curd pie. Almanzo loved vinegar pie, so it had to be good! It’s made with apple cider vinegar, and, surprisingly, had a lemony flavor, but was otherwise strange and not very good. All these years later, my friends still laugh about the vinegar pie experiment. Cream cheese-raisin-maple is a much better idea.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Elizabeth, I experienced many of the same emotions on my first visit. I went to the shore hoping to gather a few pebbles in Laura’s honor, and instead found the modern marina. (I did wander off to the side and find some.) But I love the idea of making a vinegar pie, even if you weren’t entirely pleased with the results. I haven’t tried that one.

  2. Lois Scorgie Says:

    I know I’m in the 1979 crowd dedication of the first cabin near Pepin. My parents, Lester and Marie Lund, thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the people promoting Laura Ingalls Wilder.

    Instead of dense woods, farmland surrounds Laura’s first home.Every time I visit I am comforted to see the increasing growing trees around the cabin. Many were planted in memory of my parents and other Laura fans.

    Osseo is part of my heritage too. Thank you for the wonderful memories

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Lois, thanks for sharing your memories! How very special to know that you’re somewhere in the photo. Your parents did something very special in working to preserve Laura’s homesite in Pepin–a gift for all Laura fans. And it is nice to compare that 1979 photo with the shady picnic grove of today, isn’t it? I’ll think of your parents and their friends when next I visit.

  3. Labyrinth-Living Says:

    Reblogged this on Labyrinth.Living.

  4. janekirkpatrick Says:

    I loved this book! I grew up near Lke Pepin. We used to go to camp there. I was an adult before I learned that Laura lived there! I review your book in my Story Sparks coming out next week. I loved the book and this great tour! wish I could have gone with you and your sister.

  5. Rosie Says:

    Love this

  6. Jeanie Dannheim Says:

    If I could do any tour or vacation in the world…this is second only to the Holy Land tours. This tour would be, in many ways, a return to childhood ‘heroes’, as well as a tremendous treat for the little child in me who still enjoys ‘Little House’ reruns on TV. Thank you for this delightful trip, and for ‘Death on the Prairie’!

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Jeanie, thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed both Death on the Prairie and the blog post. I’ll be spotlighting more Laura homesites, so stay tuned! I hope that one day you might be able to visit. One of the things I love about Laura’s books is that they both take me back to childhood, and give me a whole new layer to appreciate as an adult!

  7. lizkflaherty Says:

    I so enjoyed this. Looking forward to the next stop on the vicarious tour!

  8. Sarah Sue Bird Says:

    I really enjoyed the book, and hope that maybe we can visit Pepin next year. We have been to Osseo and the Norske Nook. Can hardly wait to go back. I am hoping to meet you at Jane’s Sat!

  9. Sheryl Says:

    I enjoyed vicariously visiting the Wilder homestead near Lake Pepin via your post. It looks wonderful, and I hope to actually visit it someday.

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