Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town on the South Dakota Plains

Discover Laura! allows children to experience pioneer life on family vacations in DeSmet, SD

Discover Laura! allows children to experience pioneer life on family vacations in DeSmet, SD

Arriving in DeSmet, South Dakota, I pondered how miserable the ride would be from Sioux Falls had I traveled by wagon like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family did in 1879.  An easy drive, DeSmet is a small town on the prairie where Laura Ingalls became a teacher, met and married Almanzo Wilder and gave birth to Rose, their daughter.

The town is barely one square mile yet bleeds Americana.  Proud of their country, an even prouder group of citizens leave no doubt you are in Laura Ingalls Wilder country.  Attractions, both in town and out of town, allow visitors to experience sites that inspired many of Wilder’s books such as: The Long Winter, By the Shores of Silver Lake, Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years.

Pioneer dresses ready for children to learn about pioneer life much like "Little House on the Prairie"

Pioneer dresses ready for children to learn about pioneer life much like “Little House on the Prairie”

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes

In town, the original structure the Ingalls family called home when arriving in DeSmet, known as the Surveyor’s House, still stands.  This is the house Laura referred to in By the Shores of the Silver Lake.  Guided tours allow you access to the interior of the home, which is considered Lilliputian by today’s standards.  At the same site, it a family travel opportunity that engages children to learn about America’s literary history.  The Discover Laura! Learning Center encourages kids to dress in period costume and experiment with pioneer life.  Children pick fresh vegetables from the garden, play checkers and collect eggs.

Just a few short blocks away is another shrine to the legendary writer’s family.  The Ingalls Home is available for tours; it is the last residence of Laura’s parents.

The final home of Laura Ingalls Wilder's parents was built by Pa and is open for tours in DeSmet, SD

The final home of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s parents was built by Pa and is open for tours in DeSmet, SD

Laura Ingalls Wilder Driving or Walking Tour

If you would rather walk or drive about DeSmet to witness Laura’s inspiration first-hand, then opt for the 16-point Walking and Driving Tour.  A visit to the local cemetery while in DeSmet will allow you to see the burial sites of Laura’s parents and her sisters Mary, Carrie and Grace.  Information is available at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes site.

Take an authentic lesson in a one room school house as your family road trips across the US

Take an authentic lesson in a one room school house as your family road trips across the US

Ingalls Homestead

At this point, you think there can’t possibly be more to learn, see or experience as far as Laura Ingalls Wilder is concerned.  But, you would be wrong.  Just south of town is Charles Ingalls’s land claim.  Now it houses Ingalls Homestead an attraction boasting more family friendly travel activities than most US theme parks.

There are replicas of the original house where the family lived in the 1880s.  Even more interesting is the replica of the dugout house that shows how the family dwelled in Minnesota before heading west to DeSmet.  Five original cottonwood trees planted by Charles Ingalls still stand.  For me, the crowning jewel was the covered-wagon ride to the Little Prairie School where I was able to experience learning 19th century-style.  A retired school teacher who has soared past the age of 80 delivered a lesson I wouldn’t soon forget.  Set to the beat of our clapping hands, we rhymed words learning proper phonics and spelling as we sang along.  While there, kids will have the chance to twist rope, use an antique scrub board, and make a corn cob doll.

Corncob Dolls made by children at Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, SD

Corncob Dolls made by children at Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, SD

DeSmet Is America

Today, the small town is home to just over 1,000 residents.  A short meander down Calumet Avenue SE almost morphed me into Opie.  Residents exchanged pleasantries, stopped to inquire about each other’s family and made evening dinner plans much like they do in episodes of The Andy Griffith Show.  It was here that I enjoyed my first bite of home cooking while in South Dakota as I stepped inside Ward’s Store.  As nauseating as the name sounds, you must try a sour cream raisin dessert bar.  For some reason the thought of sour cream and raising just didn’t sound appetizing.  But, I’m sure that after three of them, I am one of their most enthusiastic patrons.

So load up the station wagon and visit this proud, rural, historic treasure located on the plains in South Dakota.  For more information about DeSmet, visit: www.desmetsd.com or call Rita Anderson, a wonderful DeSmet tour guide, at 605-854-9011.

Making rope at the Ingalls Homestead is a favorite for families traveling to rural America

Making rope at the Ingalls Homestead is a favorite for families traveling to rural America

 

Where to stay:

DeSmet Super Deluxe Inn

Hwy 14 E

605-854-9388

http://www.desmetsuperdeluxeinn.com/

 

Where to eat:

DeSmet Country Club

611 7th St. SW

 

Oxbow Restaurant

102 Hwy 14 W

http://www.desmetoxbow.com/

 

Attractions:

Ingalls Homestead

20812 Homestead Rd.

605-854-3984

www.ingallshomestead.com/

 

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes

105 Olivet Ave.

605-854-3383

http://www.liwms.com/

 

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5 Responses to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little Town on the South Dakota Plains

  1. Bethany says:

    We went, my daughter and I, back in 2004 and in 2005. It was the greatest memory for us.

    • Cory Cart says:

      I have to admit; I am not the largest fan of the Little House books, but I absolutely loved DeSmet. Stay tuned, I have some more articles about my South Dakota travels that I will be posting very soon.

  2. Mary says:

    Thanks for the great info. My daughters are reading the Little House books, and we have been hoping to get to DeSmet sometime. You’ve inspired us to make sure we get there this summer!

    • Cory Cart says:

      You are most welcome, Mary. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. There are so many other things to see as well. The renovated depot is a great stop and don’t forget The Loftus Store. In business since 1879, it is the original store from the Little House books. There just wasn’t room for everything in this story, but call Rita and get a Visitor’s Guide. She is a wealth of information.

  3. Seth says:

    I was especially pleased to locate this web-site.I wanted to thanks for your time for this superb read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to take a look at new stuff you weblog post.

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