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.
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?