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!”