Laura Ingalls Wilder at Rocky Ridge

 

Back in April, I attended a writing retreat in Branson, MO. It was a wonderful time of rest and fun and great writerly conversations. But thanks to a reader’s recommendation, one of my favorite parts of the trip was a little side journey to Mansfield, MO. When I discovered that the home where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived and wrote the Little House books was only an hour away, I knew I couldn’t miss the chance to visit.

I grew up reading the Little House on the Prairie books and watching the television series. It is because of Laura’s books and others like them that I became so enamored with historical fiction. Getting to actually walk through the house that Almanzo built for Laura, to see the room where their daughter Rose slept as a girl, to see the small desk where Laura sat to write her novels . . . it gave me chills.

The tour guide took us through the house in the order that it was built. It started as two rooms and expanded over the years to contain three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, music room, small library, and front parlor. Laura and Almanzo both lived into their 90’s, and the caretakers have kept their house almost exactly as they left it upon their deaths. There were several lamps that Almanzo made by hand along with chairs and other furnishings. They wouldn’t let us take any pictures inside the house, but I bought a few postcards to help me remember.

This the back of the house where the tour began. There is a screened off porch leading to the kitchen, a narrow ladder staircase that led to Rose’s childhood bedroom upstairs, and the dining room just past the kitchen.

Front of the house. This is the section built on in later years . If you walk up the steps, you will enter the front parlor. The library will be in a little walled alcove behind the fireplace on the left and the music room will be down the hall to the right. There is also a doorway to the right before the music room that led to Laura’s writing desk, her and Almanzo’s bedroom, and a staircase to a guest room on the second floor where Rose would often invite her New York friends to stay when they needed a break from city life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rose Wilder Lane was a successful writer well before her mother decided to pen the stories of her life. Rose published several novels and wrote for many popular magazines. She traveled extensively in Europe and made quite a nice living for herself. So in 1928 before the stock market crash that would send the country into an economic crisis, Rose decided to build her parents a new house. She purchased it from the Sears & Roebuck catalog and hired an architect to make a few structural changes. They called it The Rock House because Rose had it fashioned like an English stone cottage. It was less than a mile from their farm at Rocky Ridge. Laura and Almanzo moved to the Rock House and stayed there for eight years. But in 1936 when Rose decided to move back to New York, the Wilders moved back to their beloved farm house. As much as they appreciate their daughter’s gift, the Rock House just wasn’t home.

Back at Rocky Ridge, we had the opportunity to visit a wonderful museum filled with artifacts from Laura’s life including her Pa’s fiddle and original manuscripts. There were notes in the margins where Rose had obviously given her mother editorial advice, and no doubt Rose’s connections with the publishing world in New York opened doors for her mother that Laura would never had been able to open for herself, but seeing those manuscripts in Laura’s own handwriting made it abundantly clear in my mind that those who claim Rose was the true author of the Little House stories are mistaken.

The final place we visited was the small community cemetery where the Wilders are laid to rest. Having seen their lives portrayed on television and in novels made them seem larger than life. Yet seeing their graves made it truly sink in that they were real people, living real lives. What an amazing adventure they shared.

So, if you ever happen to travel through Missouri, do yourself a favor and spend a couple hours in Mansfield with this amazing family.

  • Did you grow up reading the Little House books?
  • Did you watch the TV show?
  • Besides Laura, who was your favorite Little House character?
Karen Witemeyer
For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

33 Comments

  1. I never really read the stories but I did watch the show on occasion. I would love to visit her home. It would be fascinating.

    1. She lived through such a pivotal point of history. Walking through that museum was like walking through time. They even had a timeline posted along the ceiling with the major events from Laura and Almanzo’s life plotted out.

  2. What a wonderful post. Thank you for the info and pictures. I watched the show regularly with my children. I would love to make the trip and see their home.

    1. I bet your kids would love it, Carol. It really brings history to life. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Wow, thank you for the pictures and stories! I have never seen that place and have grown up on Little House. It is hard to be reminded that they WERE real people and led normal lives.

    1. It was definitely surreal as we walked through their home and stood at their gravesite. They felt more real to me there, not just characters in my imagination.

  4. Yes I grew up watching and reading Little House on the Prairie. Pa was always one of my favorite characters. Loved your blog and pics. What an interesting blog!

    1. Pa’s fiddle was definitely the museum’s prize possession. They actually take it out and have it played during the annual festival that honors the Wilders. I love that Pa’s music continues to live on even now.

  5. I’m a HUGE Little House fan, Karen. I usually read them aloud to my children every winter, all the way through the series, we’d read a few chapters every night. Now my daughter reads them to her children and her 9 year old daughter reads them for herself.

    1. How wonderful that your daughter is carrying on the Little House tradition, Mary!

  6. I didn’t read the books (except for Little House in the Big Woods) until I was an adult. I loved them and was sorry I missed them as a child. Carrie was my favorite character, of course, just because of her name!

    1. That makes perfect sense, Carrie. ๐Ÿ™‚ I always loved her opening the in the Little House TV show where they are all running down the hill and she takes a tumble. So sweet!

  7. I live about 15 minutes from her home in Mansfield. I’ve been there a few times. Also area schools take kids in a certain grade ( can’t remember which one) to visit every year.

    1. We saw benches outside that we guessed were used for school children during field trips. So fun!

  8. I never read the books, but watched the show. Is there an anniversary for the Laura, her books or the show? I have seen something about her a number of times in the past few weeks.

    1. I don’t know, Kate. I suppose that’s possible. I just happened to go because I was in the area. Well worth the trip!

    2. They do have Laura Ingalls Wilder Days there in Mansfield Iโ€™m not sure when it is but it is always a big thing and many of the stars who played on the Tv show have been there. I know Dean Butler (Almozo) and Liz Jean have been there in the past.

  9. Nellie because I think because she acted so mean that there really was a good person inside.

    1. She is an interesting character. I liked her later in life in the TV show when she married Percival. It was like the Taming of the Shrew. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. I watched the show but haven’t read the books. I loved the show for it’s wholesomeness. I knew I could sit and watch it and not worry about violence, language or nudity

    1. I agree, Sabrina. It was one of my favorite shows growing up.

  11. I grew up reading the books and watching the TV show.

    1. Me, too, Denise. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. I have read all the Little House books multiple times and I watched the TV show the whole time it was on. Other than Laura my favorite character was Ma. What a strong,,strong woman she was. I guess you had to be back in those days!! Going to see Laura ‘s house is definitely on my bucket list. Thank you so much for sharing these pictures!

    1. Ma was my favorite, too! So strong yet so kind and understanding. I wanted to be like her.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing your trip with us,loved seeing the pics!! My mom gave me the entire Little House collection for Christmas when I was a little girl and I was hooked. Must admit I enjoyed the books more than the tv show. Other than Laura I enjoyed Pa the most. Loved his bravery ,wisdom,his love of family, all topped off with a twinkle in the eye and a sense of fun. Thank again,Karen enjoyed this post!

    1. I think it’s easy to see how much Laura loved her Pa by reading about him in her books. He was her hero.

  14. I read the books several times. I didn’t watch the show much. This is definately a really neat place to visit. If I’m ever in the neighborhood I’m stopping by! Thanks for sharing your journey.

    1. You would love it, Carolyn!

  15. Thank you for the virtual tour, Karen! It was so enjoyable to see the Wilder home. I really loved the look of that stone cottage that Rose had built, but I can understand Laura and Almanzo being more comfortable in the home that they built with their own hands. There is just something warm and fulfilling about that.

    1. And it just seemed so true to their characters. ๐Ÿ™‚ The stone house is really nice, though. ๐Ÿ™‚

  16. Besides Laura, I liked the Mom best. She handled everything that popped up and did it well. She was a good mom and never really lost her sense of humor.
    Sadly I wasn’t aware of the Little House books when I was growing up. Way back then, they hadn’t become as well known as they now are. It is odd that more wasn’t said in our area since Alonso’s boyhood home is just an hour away. I was more interested in Nancy Drew and mysteries back then.
    We loved the TV show (1974 – 1983). My husband and I started watching it. Our girls were babies when it started. They grew up with it and enjoyed every program. One of them has DVD’s of some of the series.

    1. I think the TV series really invigorated the popularity of the books, Patricia, so they became better known to my generation. Have you ever visited Almanzo’s home? I bet that would be interested to see.

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