Pa built it in 1887 when the family gave up homesteading and moved to town. It’s a museum now, full of Ingalls artifacts and for the most part arranged as the family would have had it. It was wonderful to walk through that home and imagine Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, and Grace doing the same. Grace got married in the beautiful front parlor, which nowadays is arranged nearly exactly like the first photograph that Carrie took of it while she was working at the newspaper office. Whenever Laura visited from where she, Almanzo, and Rose lived in the Ozarks, she was there, too. It was a big, beautiful family home.
There was a pump organ in the parlor that visitors could play. I tried a hymn, but it was hard for me to coordinate the left and right pumps! The keys wouldn’t make a sound unless your feet pumped firmly and rhythmically. My friend Laura managed better. There was also a violin, like what Pa would play; my friend Laura was good at that, too!
Today, this house has normal neighbors … the only ones who are back in time are the museum tour guides and visitors and perhaps those who stay at the bed-and-breakfast nearby. Can you imagine how interesting it would be to live next door to the old Ingalls home?
Pa died there in 1902; Ma and Mary rented out some rooms afterward for added income. Ma died in 1924. Carrie and Grace had long since been married and living elsewhere, but they and Laura visited frequently up to Ma’s death. Mary lived with Grace and then Carrie until she died in 1928.
After we finished this house, we went downtown on Calumet Avenue and stopped at the Loftus Store, the general store that Laura wrote of; we also saw the site of the house that the Ingallses lived in during The Long Winter. The building there now is second-generation.
Here’s the place where Laura and Almanzo staked their claim after they first married, a few miles out from De Smet. It’s where Rose was born.
Last of all we visited the Ingalls homestead site. This was probably my favorite part, because it reminded me of what captured my imagination the most about the Little House series: Laura’s prairie days and all the special things the girls did in the rural, wholesome heartland of America. The land doesn’t change … it was easy to imagine the family living, working, and playing there. There were several buildings just over the hill, replicas of what the Ingallses would have had on their land at various times: a barn, a shanty, a sod-roof house.
These are the cottonwoods that Pa planted! They’re some of the oldest trees in the area. Aren’t they lovely? I love trees, so their standing sentinel at the entrance of the homestead site helped make it my favorite place of all.
It’s plain to see that I’ll remember this visit to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s world and the world of my friend Laura for the rest of my life!