Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway: Walnut Grove, Minnesota — Part 1

Finally! We were headed to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. It is one of the childhood homes of Laura and the Ingalls family. It is also the most well-known location from her childhood years because of the television series “Little House on the Prairie” starring Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert.

Since it was a two-plus hour drive from our RV Park to Walnut Grove, and there were SO many places I wanted to stop and see related to the Little House books and television show, we decided to pack a bag and make it an overnight/two day trip. We took Highway 14 West from Owatonna, MN, all the way to Walnut Grove.

Along the way are the towns of Mankato and Sleepy Eye which were mentioned in the television series numerous times as well as in her books. Of course, I wanted to stop at each of these places and at least explore their historic downtown areas.

First stop: Mankato, Minnesota.

I think this might be a train depot because it is right by the railroad tracks. 😂 I have no idea how old it is or whether or not it had been remodeled or an addition added. Now it houses several businesses and shops. [[[[

Front of the depot.
The Minnesota River runs by the depot in Mankato and eventually becomes a tributary of the Mississippi River at Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The flood wall had a beautiful mural painted on a portion it.

This is the building on the National Register of Historic Places. I couldn’t find any indication of the date it was built.

If you zoom in and look closely, you can see the date 1888.

Now, on to Sleepy Eye. Be sure to zoom in and look for dates on some of the buildings.

About eighteen miles east of Walnut Grove is a place I learned about on the internet while I was researching the places Laura Ingalls Wilder lived. This place has nothing to do with Laura or her books. It was, however, relevant to the time period because the Ingalls family lived in a sod house on the banks of Plum Creek just outside of Walnut Grove. This interesting and beautiful stop along the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway is called Sod House on the Prairie.

Stan and Virginia McCone own the farm near Sanborn, Minnesota, where this attraction is located. Stan (who passed away a few years ago) was inspired by the history of the sod houses built on the Prairie in the late 1800s. The early pioneers built sod houses because trees on the prairie were virtually nonexistent. Sod, however, was plentiful! Mr. McCone couldn’t find any of the sod houses or remnants of any of them on the Prairie surrounding his home. He decided to build several replicas of these little houses that pioneer families built and lived in.

There is a small admission fee (it’s an honor system) which you deposit in a black mailbox on the owner’s back porch. Then you are free to roam the section of land where the sod houses are built (furnishings in these sod houses have been collected or donated and are representative of that time in history, not necessarily original). This land has been reseeded by the McCones with natural prairie grass and flowers like the Ingalls family would have seen when they arrived. It was a self-guided tour that was very interesting, and the day we visited the weather was just lovely!

This one is called the Soddy. It is the largest sod house with a wood floor that only the “rich” people would have built.

They used above the rafters for storage as well as the spaces between where the walls and the ceiling met.

Even the outhouses were built from sod.

This one is called the Dugout and is smaller than the Soddy. It has a dirt floor and is what the “poor” people like the Ingalls family would have lived in.

Obviously this isn’t a sod house but a log house which was also on the property. I just thought it was interesting, so I included it. It wasn’t until the railroad was completed and started bringing in cut lumber that people on the prairie could build log houses.

It was a VERY windy day on the prairie which you can tell because the prairie grass is bending over quite a bit. However, the tall grass and flowers were beautiful nonetheless.

Phew! What a day! Fortunately our motel was only a few miles away. The people at the museum in Walnut Grove recommended the Lamberton Motel in Lamberton, Minnesota (ten miles east of Walnut Grove), so we made our reservation in advance. It was an old motel but clean (very important!). The people there were very nice. We were quite tired and thankful for a place to rest up because ………..

Next stop … Walnut Grove, Minnesota!

So, for now ….. “On the Road Again!”


Next Stop on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Route: Spring Valley, Minnesota

  • As a child, the Ingalls family moved around a lot for various reasons. Here is a list of places and dates (years only) where the Ingalls lived. This list also includes the places Laura and her husband, Almanzo, lived.
    • 1867: Pepin, Wisconsin
      1869: Independence, Kansas
      1871: Pepin, Wisconsin
      1874: Walnut Grove, Minnesota
      1876: Burr Oak, Iowa
      1877: Walnut Grove, Minnesota
    • 1879: DeSmet, South Dakota (in 1881 Laura’s sister, Mary, moves to Vinton, Iowa, to attend the school for the blind located there)
    • 1885: Laura marries Almanzo Wilder in DeSmet, South Dakota
    • 1890-1891: Laura, Almanzo, and daughter, Rose, move to Spring Valley, Minnesota, then to Westville, Florida, because of Almanzo’s health
    • 1892: Laura and family move back to DeSmet, South Dakota
    • 1894: Laura and family move to Mansfield, Missouri (1949: Almanzo dies; 1957: Laura dies. Both are buried in Mansfield, Missouri.)
  • – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
  • We did not visit the places where Laura lived in chronological order. I decided to just blog about the places we visited in the order in which we visited them. So, our next visit was to Spring Valley, Minnesota.
  • Spring Valley, Minnesota, is where Laura Ingalls’s husband, Almanzo Wilder, spent the last part of his childhood. Almanzo was born in Burke, New York, on February 13, 1857. His parents (James and Angeline Wilder) and family moved to Spring Valley, Minnesota, in 1870 when he was thirteen years old to establish a farm. Spring Valley’s historical significance mostly centers around the Wilder family, however, as you can see from the chronological list of places where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived (above), she and Almanzo did live there for a short time.
  • The Wilder family attended Spring Valley Methodist Church. As early as 1858, the church began raising money toward a building while they met regularly in an upstairs hall in town. Construction on the church finally started in 1876 when the lot on West Courtland Street was purchased. James Wilder was among the early contributors. His pledge of $50 was one of the largest amounts.
  • Church records show that pastors or presiding elders baptized and performed marriage rites for Almanzo’s two sisters (Eliza Jane Wilder and Laura Ann Wilder). Records also show that Almanzo and Laura (Ingalls) Wilder attended there in 1890 and 1891.
  • The church’s Victorian-Gothic architecture showcases 21 stained glass windows (Italian stained glass, circa 1715) and beautiful wooden arches and moldings. The church is now a museum which offers guided tours for a nominal fee.
  • The floor which was the sanctuary is filled with a vast array of church memorabilia from the late 1800s and early 1900s. It also has several board displays with information pertaining to the Wilder family and when Laura and Almanzo lived in Spring Valley. The tour guides are VERY knowledgeable and the tour was fascinating.
  • You can see just a FEW of the boards with information about the Wilder family on them. Our guide took us around all the boards and told us all about the Wilder family and Laura and Almanzo.

  • Our tour guide for the upstairs level ringing the church bell.
  • The basement level of the church contains a multitude of varied displays the town’s history. It is by FAR one of the best displays of late 1800s through mid 1900s relics we have ever seen. Some of the things we saw were: an 1874 fire truck wagon, an old chicken incubator that heats with kerosene, a “summer” oven and stove that also heats with kerosene, an old fire extinguisher in the shape of a very large light bulb filled with a chemical to put out a kitchen fire, an old electric permanent wave machine, an astonishing collection of old cameras, and I could go on and on!!
  • I will just let these pictures do the rest of the “talking,” and you can see for yourself.
  • Interesting fact: Richard Sears was a boyhood chum of Almanzo Wilder’s. By 1886 he founded the R. W. Sears Watch Company. When he moved his company to Chicago he became friends with Alvah Roebuck who joined the company in 1893. And, as they say … “the rest is history!” In 1906 a mail order plant was built in Chicago and became the largest business building.
  • The summer stove and stove top summer oven.

    A picture of the Wilder boys (L. to R.: Perley, Royal, and Almanzo) taken in 1891. There were a lot more pictures of the Wilder family in the museum, but this place really didn’t want you taking pictures of the pictures (unless one of your party was standing next to the picture). I guess they just want you to come by and tour the museum yourself some day.

    The Wilder’s home (now a private residence).

    The Wilder’s barn and farm property. The barn is scheduled to be torn down soon (what a shame!) because the present-day owners cannot get insurance for it.

  • I don’t know anything about this building or if it was connected to the Wilders. It was close to the Wilder’s barn and I thought it would make a pretty picture. 😊

    After we left the church, we drove around the town. There were some interesting old buildings in the historic downtown area. There were also some beautiful old homes.

    This corner building was once a store owned by one of the Wilders.

    You can see the Wilder’s church/museum from the main business street.

    This was one of the most beautiful old homes I’ve ever seen. You could tell it had been restored and the brick painted (WHY did they do that?!). I wish I would have taken more pics of some of the other older homes.

    We drove out to the Spring Valley Cemetery where we were told some of the Wilders were buried. We found Almanzo’s brother, Royal’s, grave site, but didn’t find any of the others. Most of the original headstones were difficult to read from age and some kind of fungus or moss-type stuff growing on them. It looked as though Royal’s gravestone had been replaced.

    After that, we headed home to the RV.

    We will be taking another trip on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Route soon.

    So, for now ….. “On the Road Again!”


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