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.
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.
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.
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.
The Wayside was created on a triangle of land that had been part of a large modern farm.
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.
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.)
Visitors can see Wilder family heirlooms and artifacts relating to local history.
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.
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.
And if you want the true Chloe experience, you can stop in Osseo for coffee and pie at the famous Norske Nook .
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.
Or, simply wait for some soft spring day, and go relive some memories from a favorite childhood book.