Laura Land Tour: De Smet, SD – Part 1

My advice if you head to De Smet:  plan to stay a couple of days.  As Laura Ingalls Wilder fans know, By the Shores Of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town On the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years were all set in and near De Smet. The First Four Years, published posthumously, also takes place here. And there is a lot for visitors to see.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society operates the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes. Start your visit here to purchase tour tickets, browse the gift shop, and see family artifacts.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes De Smet SD

The Society currently maintains more than 2,000 original artifacts pertaining to Laura and her family. Photos are not permitted in the exhibit area, but it contains some real treasures.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes De Smet SD

A glimpse of the artifact storage area. Although not normally open to the public, it gives a hint of the Society’s holdings.

 

Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society De Smet SD

The former Society director gives young fans a glimpse during a special behind-the-scenes tour.

The first building on the Historic Homes tour is the Surveyors’ House, where the Ingalls family spent the winter of 1879-1880. When the family moves in, Laura is so excited that she runs ahead to explore.

It was a big house, a real house with two stories, and glass windows… The largeness of the empty house seemed to wait and listen. It seemed to know that Laura was there, but it had not made up its mind about her. …This would be by far the largest house she had ever lived in. (By The Shores Of Silver Lake)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes De Smet

A guide told me that many visitors, remembering Laura’s delighted description, are surprised by how small the house feels by modern standards.

Laura also wrote of finding three closed doors. The first (visible on the right in the photo below) led to a small bedroom. The middle led to a staircase. (For safety reasons visitors can’t climb to the second story, but an ingeniously placed mirror provides a good look.) The third door led to a stocked pantry. Laura was astonished by the bounty:  A squeal of excitement came out of her mouth and startled the listening house.

Surveyors house - Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes De Smet SD

Photo courtesy the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society.

Silver Lake is one of my favorite books, and it was a treat to visit. How fortunate we are that the building was saved!

The newest building on the grounds is the First School of De Smet, which Laura and her younger sister Carrie attended.  (Remember when Laura defends frail Carrie after Eliza Jane Wilder, teacher and Laura’s future sister-in-law, singles her out for punishment?)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes De Smet SD

The building is the newest addition, and when I last visited, was still being restored. Happily, visitors are permitted to watch the process. It’s fascinating to see the structure’s layers.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes De Smet SD

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes De Smet SD

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes De Smet SD

Guests can also see a replica of the Brewster School, where Laura taught for the first time. In These Happy Golden Years Laura described some harrowing experiences–and her surprise when Almanzo Wilder arrives in his sleigh to take her home.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes De Smet SD

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes De Smet SD

(When I was writing Death on the Prairie, I wanted my main character Chloe Ellefson to reflect upon her own changing perspective—how rereading the books brought new understanding. As a child, Chloe was terrified to read of Mrs. Brewster threatening her husband with a knife; as an adult, she is better able to appreciate the challenges some women faced when isolated on the prairie.)

The final stop on the formal Homes tour is the Ingalls Home on Third Street. Charles Ingalls (Pa) built the house in 1887.  Laura was married by that time, and so never lived in the home.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes De Smet SD

Since I hadn’t read anything about the house before visiting De Smet, I wasn’t sure what to expect here. Neither was Chloe:

Inside, the group bunched up in the parlor where Ma and Pa had spent their evenings. “After Mary graduated from the school for the blind in Iowa,” Edna Jo added, “she lived here as well.”

All interesting, Chloe thought. But there was no point in looking for Laura in this house.

“The night before Laura and Almanzo and Rose moved to Missouri, everyone gathered in this room,” Edna Jo continued. “After supper Laura asked Pa to get out his fiddle. He played almost until sunup. Laura didn’t know if she’d ever see her parents or sisters again. Pa told Laura that he wanted her to have his fiddle when he died.”

Chloe’s throat thickened. So much for not looking for Laura here.

“When the Wilders drove away in their wagon, Laura broke down and wept,” Edna Jo said softly. “She told Almanzo that she didn’t think the Ingalls family would have survived if it hadn’t been for Pa’s fiddle.”

Pa's house De Smet

That scene took place in the front room on the left. Mary Ingalls’ bedroom is to the right.

Mary's bedroom - Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes De Smet SD

Photo courtesy the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society.

Death on the Prairie readers may also recall a key scene that take place in the kitchen, in the back. During my first visit a guide told me that visitors often have emotional reactions to some of the displays there.

# # #

De Smet, SD, is located about two hours west of Walnut Grove, MN. You may wish to stop at the Wheels Across The Prairie Museum in Tracy, MN on the way. In The Long Winter men struggled, and ultimately failed, to get a desperately needed train full of supplies from Tracy to De Smet.

Wheels Across The Prairie museum

Wheels Across The Prairie museum

For more information about Death on the Prairie, including links to other tour stops, photographs, maps, and much more, please visit my website.

Next time, a glimpse of some of the other special places to visit in De Smet, South Dakota!

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8 Responses to “Laura Land Tour: De Smet, SD – Part 1”

  1. barbara karp Says:

    thanks so much for your tours I feel like im there

  2. Judy Nedrry Says:

    Just amazing! Thanks so much.

  3. Sheila Ingle Says:

    Reblogged this on Sheila Ingle .

  4. Melissa Middleswart Says:

    I just reread By the Shores of Silver Lake and finished today. It was reading your new Chloe mystery, which I enjoyed, that prompted me to start rereading Laura’s books. I have certainly been reminded of how difficult their lives were. I admire the pioneers but I’m certainly glad I did not have to live that sort of life. I like my comforts!

  5. Ruth Davis Says:

    My favorite books as a child. A lovely tribute. Enjoyed the photos.

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