Laura Land Tour: Mansfield, MO

I will admit that when my sister and I began planning visits to all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites, I was most excited to see the places I’d read about in Laura’s Little House books. That did not include Mansfield.

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After visiting? All I can say is that it is a very special place.

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Wilder fans know from The First Four Years that Laura and Almanzo faced many hardships and tragedies in South Dakota after their marriage. They moved to Florida, but weren’t happy and moved back. After hearing good things about Missouri, Laura, Almanzo, and daughter Rose traveled to Mansfield in 1894. They brought the few possessions saved from the fire that destroyed their tree claim house, and $100 to buy land.

The family settled on a rocky ridge one mile east of Mansfield, and moved into a run-down, windowless log cabin. (They also lived in town for a period.)  Laura and Almanzo worked together for years, as time and money and energy permitted, to create the lovely farm and 12-room house. They lived happily on Rocky Ridge Farm for the rest of their lives.

If you drive from Mansfield, you’ll approach the property just as the Wilders’ friends did.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

Almanzo built the house with Laura’s wishes in mind. For example, all of the kitchen counters were designed to accommodate her five-foot height. It’s a delight to see examples of his carpentry skills. He also set up a clever pipe system that brought spring water inside, through the wood stove to warm, and into the kitchen sink.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

When Almanzo built the chimney, he included several stones exhibiting fossils.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

The house interior looks as if Laura just stepped out for a moment. If you’ve read the 7th Chloe Ellefson mystery, Death on the PrairieChloe’s reaction to seeing the Wilders’ bedroom mirrors what I felt on my first visit. (Sadly, photos are not permitted inside.)

I can show you the small back porch (to the left in the photo below) that was featured in a key scene.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

Here’s the view when you step into the porch and look to the left.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

When strolling the grounds, it’s easy to imagine Laura and Almanzo there.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

They planted the orchard. I was sorely tempted to take a windfall apple home. (I didn’t.)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

There is also a museum on the property. Pa’s fiddle, Mary’s nine-patch quilt, and hand-written drafts of Laura’s books are among the many treasures on display. (Sorry—again, no photos permitted.) The Wilder Home Association is currently constructing a new museum a short distance away, which will help restore the period landscape around the farmhouse.

In 1928 Rose gifted her parents with the Rock House, accessible from the farmhouse on a trail through the woods.  Rose wanted to provide Laura and Almanzo with more modern conveniences. Laura began writing the Little House books here.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

They missed the farmhouse, though, and moved back in 1936.

The area landscape today is much like it was in Laura’s time. It’s easy to see why she loved the region so much.

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Laura, Almanzo, and Rose are buried nearby in the Mansfield Cemetery.

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Laura’s writing career began in Missouri—not as a novelist, but as a regular contributor to the Missouri Ruralist. Her articles paint a pictures of the Wilders’ life in Missouri. You can read a collection in Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist:  Writing From The Ozarks.

To learn more about Laura’s homesites, I highly recommend Laura Ingalls Wilder Country by William Anderson.

To learn more about the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum, visit their website.

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

I hope you’ve enjoyed the armchair tour!

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17 Responses to “Laura Land Tour: Mansfield, MO”

  1. Kathy Gordon Says:

    Just found your blog. I am enjoying it! Thank you!

  2. darlene ramos Says:

    Nice article, insights, and pictures! Thank you

  3. caroleestbydagg Says:

    Oh, how I wish I could have gone with you! Thank you for sharing your pictures – it’s the next best thing.

  4. D. Kester Says:

    Thanks for this fascinating “armchair tour” of Wilder’s long-time home in Missouri. It’s an eye-opener for me, as I never realized she and her husband settled and lived such a long time in southern Missouri. Appreciate your bringing their history to life, Love your photos!

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      So glad you’ve enjoyed the tour, D! I didn’t know about the long Missouri period until I returned to her books and her life about five years ago. They had so many hard times…it’s special to see a place where they lived for so long, and loved so much.

  5. Judy Nedry Says:

    Kathleen, I love all of your posts so much. I have read all of the little house books several times. Have you, perchance, read “A Wilder Rose” by Susan Wittig Albert?

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Judy, I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying the tour! It’s always fun to see photos of places we’ve tried so hard to imagine, isn’t it? I am familiar with “A Wilder Rose.” I will admit, though, that while I fully acknowledge that Rose was of great help with contacts in the publishing industry, and an often heavy-handed editor, I’ve chosen not to dwell on that aspect/controversy regarding authorship. In my mind they’ll always be Laura’s books. :>)

  6. Diana Belchase Says:

    Reblogged this on Book Smart TV and commented:
    Kathleen Ernst is posting today with another installment about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Seeing Laura’s headstone brought tears to my eyes. Thank you Kathleen and keep writing such wonderful posts!

  7. Kenneth Benner Says:

    Do you have any pictures of the house Almanzo built i think in 1894 the one that burnt from Rose doing something to cause it to burn? fire.

  8. Tina Peters Says:

    My husband and I did get to visit the houses and other buildings in DeSmet South Dakota on our honeymoon in 2008! What a great TRIP we had! It was very interesting to see these places we for years watched on TV! As a child I always wanted to visit this Special place! I would definitely return to see this again!

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