We found ourselves with the weekend off, and we definitely wanted to do something on our list. When we are staying in a new area for awhile I make a list of all the places I would like to see, and when we have time we can choose from the list. During the research process I was really surprised to find that Walnut Grove (the town from Little House on the Prairie) was 1-1/2 hours away. I had read the books as a child, but was much more into the TV show and I had a vague notion it was in Kansas. It turns out it was in southern Minnesota and when I saw that the museum was reopening from COVID closure that weekend I knew we have to go. Thankfully Lee, who is always a good sport about these kinds of things, was game so off we went. While we were driving I checked the Roadside America app and looked for places to stop along the way. I have always been a huge fan of the app, but I was pleasantly surprised by how COVID friendly it is. Most of the stops are outdoors and here are a few places we jumped out and took pictures of along the route. This was very rural country by the way, and the app had plenty to see.
Finally we made it to the site of the homestead and cheerfully paid our $5 to enter the property. As we travel we have seen several places that are on private property that the owners make available to the public. I never mind paying them a small maintenance fee and am always grateful that they allow folks to visit. Fair warning this place is not big rig friendly, so I would definitely recommend going with just your vehicle.
I should probably stop at this point and give a little background. If you have read the books you know there were major differences between them and the TV show. On the banks of Plum Creek has most of the story we remember fondly and this was the land they owned during that time period. They actually moved several times during her childhood as this map shows.
Although I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect I will admit I got goosebumps when we saw the creek. It may have changed its path since she lived there, but it was still the same body of water.
The signage isn’t great when you get there, but go to the right to see the creek and to the left is a bridge that takes you to the former dugout location. Since the one other person went left, we went right and came upon what might have been the “big rock.” In the book Laura talks a lot about the big rock and this was the only one they could find left on the property. It probably isn’t the same one, but it was still fun and I definitely had to take a picture on it.
To the left was a nice wooden bridge and the dugout site. It was very common for farmers to live in a dugout until the first crop came in and they used the proceeds to build a house. They had plenty of wood, but nails and other things cost money and they didn’t want to invest until they were sure the land would yield.
The homestead site itself I need to say is not particularly glamorous. If you have no sentimental attachment to the books, save your money because all you will see is a hole in the ground. I saw a little piece of history and was particularly impressed by how small it was. Of course this is what the dugout hole looks like after over 100 years of being flattened by rain and wind and time, which eventually erases everything.
It was hard for me to picture though so I was glad when later we went to the museum and they had a recreation. I’ll show that here, but remember this is only at the museum.
We didn’t spend long at the homestead site because it was so hot, but drove into town and saw the museum. The gift shop is free, and it was a super nice one, and touring the museum area was only $2 a person. The smaller buildings were closed because of COVID but it was still worth it especially the room where they had lots of memorabilia from the TV show. Over the years many of the actors from the show have visited this small town and the pictures and stories really brought back a ton of memories.
My favorite character was Nellie. There was something about the spoiled brat turning into a nice woman that was really compelling. The actress who played her has visited the area many times and is a local favorite.
After we walked around, we were both hungry and I was thrilled to see a sign for Nellie’s cafe in town. We haven’t eaten inside a restaurant since COVID started, but since it was small and only held 23 people we felt it was worth the risk. We ate at the counter and the owner was really great. The food was also yummy, Lee loved his Frisco burger, onion rings, and of course a piece of home made pie.
One thing that really was interesting about this visit was when I posted it on Facebook I heard from so many people my age who were jealous! Several people I knew also reached out and said they had been there which really surprised me because you have to go to some trouble to get to the town. Again if you are not a fan I don’t know that it was worth it, but if you are it was more than worth the time and money spent. For us as our first full day out exploring since Covid, it was darn near perfect.
Next up we decided to stop in Tracy, Minnesota and stumbled across a really cool Train Museum!
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