Friday, August 21, 2009

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Home

We took one full day to drive to some other spots around southern Missouri. One of these places was the small town of Mansfield, which had been the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the Little House books. Popular long before Michael Landon produced the TV series of "Little House on the Prairie", my wife grew up reading the books. So when she discovered that Mrs. Wilder's home was just a short drive from where we were camping, we decided to head that way to visit the Wilder house and museum.

The visit there was a lot more fun and informative than I had imagined. One thing that I discovered was that Wilder's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, had been a well-known and quite successful author long before her mother became one. In fact, it was Rose Wilder Lane who encouraged her mother to begin putting on paper the memories of her pioneer childhood of 1800s mid-West USA. I learned that Lane was a seminal influence on the Libertarian movement, a political group whose tenets I don't generally like. However, one has to be impressed with Lane's career and life, no matter her right wing tendencies. One thing that I found admirable about her is that she did not seem to have any racist tendencies whatsoever.

This was the sight of the original Wilder house and museum as we walked up the driveway to the facility.

One of Rose Wilder Lane's desks on display in the museum. We spent quite a lot of time in the museum examining photographs and text about the Wilder and Ingalls families.

I took this photo because of the incongruity of it. This fellow was wearing this very rude shirt as we went about the tour of the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, certainly a woman of impeccable manners. I think a fart would have been a relief from standing near this guy--he stank and I suspect it had been quite some time since he'd bathed. The building for which we were headed was a video room where we watched a short documentary about the Wilder family and the museum establishment. There's also a book and gift shop attached, which was doing quite a brisk business. I was surprised at how many people were visiting the Wilder home on this weekday.

Carole, standing in front of the first Wilder home. This is the house that Almonzo Wilder built, a section at a time (originally it was a one-room cabin). They lived here for many years, with only an eight-year absence while they lived a short distance away in the house their daughter built for them as a gift. No photography is allowed in the house, which is unfortunate, because I really wish I could have saved some images from inside.

A short distance away is the Wilder "Rock House". This was where Laura and Almonzo Wilder lived for eight years, and where the first four Little House books were written. The desk where Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote those books is still on display in that building.

The Rock House was built on the back 40 of the 200-acre Wilder farm. One interesting feature here is the rock retaining wall that had been built by Almonzo Wilder. For many years this house was under the ownership of another family. Until the museum bought it back, no one realized that this retaining wall existed. Over the intervening years after the Wilders sold it, the wall had become buried by brush and soil. It was only during renovation that it was rediscovered.

One thing that struck me about this 1928 home is how modern it remains. The plan had been ordered by Rose Wilder Lane out of the Sears & Roebuck catalog. The house has modern wiring and plumbing and is quite airy and bright. I wouldn't mind living in that house myself. But the Wilders, homesick for the old place, moved out and into their original home as soon as Rose Wilder Lane left the older house to move to Connecticut. They then sold the Rock House and the 40 acres surrounding it to a neighbor. Today, the Ingalls Wilder museum owns the home, but the adjoining 35 acres still remains with the family who bought it in 1936.

I took this as we were leaving the Rock House. This was part of the grounds directly around the house.

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