i have so much to tell you about the Ingalls Homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota but let me begin with just this one photo of my feisty/deep/soulful/wild/introverted gracie girl. on that day, she truly was laura ingalls straight out of the Little House on the Prairie stories. visiting the place where laura wrote and grew up was gracie's dream come true!so we just returned from a six week roadtrip driving from our home in washington to rochester, new york and back. we had plenty of things booked along the way but the one thing i was looking forward to more than anything else was surprising gracie with some visits to the Little House on the Prairie homesites across the midwest! we visited two. aside from south dakota we also visited the homesite of the Little House in the Big Woods where the original log cabin was built. it was destroyed long ago but in it's place is an exact replica - you can see our photos from that at the bottom of this post! disclaimer: daily life is hard. traveling with kids and living on the road is hard. but days like this one are what make it all worth it. (so i'm really soaking up every last beautiful memory of it and allowing the poop/pee/puke/sleepless travel memories to quietly lay low.)
so now about the Ingalls Homestead. it's a dream. by far, this was the highlight of all the places we have visited on our family roadtrips over the years. perhaps it was because we have become so invested in the stories of the ingalls and have read a good portion of laura's books in the series. as we were driving the 30+ hours one way we actually listened to two full audiobooks as a family (on the banks of plum creek & the long winter) so when we arrived at the homestead the kids were already pumped and in full character. gracie is of course laura. clementine took on the character of mary. mabel was baby carrie and brandon was jack, the dog. on the day we went we were practically the only visitors... it was pure magic. i can still almost feel the way the wind was blowing through my hair and whipping around the dresses of my girls as they ran across the prairie grass.
(i will tell you about each thing between the photos as you scroll down...) so the homestead is a large open space on the tallgrass prairie. it is surrounded by wheat and corn fields for hundreds of miles and the buildings are original from the 1880's- early 1900's are all positioned around one big grassy space with plenty of room to run and play barefoot. the barn above is where all the animals live... ponies, cows, kittens and the horses that pull the covered wagons. this is about the middle of the homestead. just beside that is Ma and Pa's house... you can see the kids on their porch. all of the buildings are open and the children are encouraged to play with and explore every part of the working original homestead so the kids' imaginations were running wild, kind of like an authentic indoor/outdoor children's museum (but with much more meaning and purpose).
they have the covered wagon's available to take you (with the kids assisting the horse driving) on a tour around around Pa's farmland and up to the original one room schoolhouse where the Ingalls girls actually went to school. the running free was their favorite part. this little place that they are inside below is the "dugout home" (modeled after the house from On the Banks of Plum Creek). here is the hayroof barn. the happiest place for our kids that they can remember. it was just full of baby kittens and chickens! they each just scooped up a kitten or two and sang and danced from one place to the next in the sunshine. and yes, it really was as magical as i am making it sound. can't you just see the BLISS on their faces?! so the (very bumpy and peaceful) covered wagon ride took us to the Little Schoolhouse! everything is just as it was. the desks even have some of the ingalls girls' carvings in the wood.
this is quote and this photograph are my favorite. this is Ma's garden. the wild wind was blowing gracie's hair as she smelled each plant and walked through the rows. she was just FEELING it. truly, feeling it. inside of Ma's house! they each took a sunset horseback ride. this was the lookout tower. Pa said he would look out from the top and say the the land they picked was "just right in every way". this was really special! they had a workshop for the kids to make rope and cornhusk dolls. just before we left to drive through the night, i asked gracie if her and i could have a little time just the two of us and for her to take me to her favorite place on the whole homestead. she grabbed my hand and her book and we ran straight toward the hay roof barn with the kittens. a baby calf had also just been born right inside (there to her left inside the barn door she was talking to it). she grabbed a cat, fixed her hair, stood in the warmth of the sun and told me "okay i'm ready for my picture on the prairie". and then i cried happy tears. this place brought her to life. a side of her that was new to me and so very full of excitement and wonder.
our time there was incredibly special.
and here are the photos from our visit to the homesite of the Little House in the Big Woods in Pepin, Wisconsin. it was so humble and simple and pretty much one big log room with a fireplace and a separation for sleeping quarters. i saw my children bloom visiting these places. and the best part is that it is still continuing. they have been in Ingalls character a good portion of every day since we visited and now back home, they are already making plans with their "Pa" (as clementine now has renamed donny) to build their own kid-sized log cabin from our fallen wooden branches in the yard. that's the best part of traveling isn't it? that it excites and starts a fire inside you for something fresh, something with greater purpose, something deeper. and that once you return home that you make it your own and put it into practice. we are so very happy to be home but i know that we will revisit this special time in our minds and dreams in our journals for years to come.