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When we planned our weekend getaway to South Dakota, one of the things I desperately wanted to do but couldn’t originally fit into our schedule was visiting the town of De Smet, SD. Those of you who knew me as a child knew I was absolutely obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie and always wanted to visit the town that was the setting of 5 of her books.
My sweet husband decided there was no way I would miss this chance to see De Smet, so he graciously rearranged our weekend itinerary so we could visit as we headed home to Iowa. It’s about an hour north of I-90 in the quaintest little town. You could easily spend a couple of days here, but we only had 4 hours to spare before we needed to be back on the road. Thankfully, we were able to jam a lot into our 4 hours!
Our first stop was the Ingalls Memorial Society. Here, we were able to see the original Surveyor’s House from By the Shores of Silver Lake, the original Ingalls Home built by Pa in 1879, the original schoolhouse that Laura and her sister Carrie in The Long Winter and Little Town on the Prairie. They have a paid tour where you can go inside the buildings, but we opted to skip those since we were short on time.
The Ingalls Memorial Society also has a gift shop (where I bought the sweatshirt I’m wearing in most of the photos). The folks at the Ingalls Memorial Society were very knowledgeable about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life and it was so fun to talk about my favorite books with them! They gave us suggestions on places for us to visit and directions, as well as a map of the town since we opted to do our own driving tour.
On our driving tour through town, we stopped to visit the Loftus Store. This is the last store on Main Street that existed when Laura lived there. I took advantage of the minimal traffic throughout town to take a few photos down Main Street and to imagine what it looked like in the 1880s.
From there, we headed north to see the homestead that Almanzo and Laura lived on, and where their daughter Rose was born. The home no longer exists, and the land is just farm land, but it was neat to imagine their house on the other side of the hill.
We also stopped to see the Ingalls Home that Pa built. Laura never actually lived in this house, because she was married to Almanzo by the time Pa began building it. In town, we also saw the Congregational Church, the first church in De Smet, which Pa helped build and Ma, Pa, and Mary were charter members… It’s still a church today, in fact.
Then, we drove over to the De Smet Cemetery. This cemetery holds the graves of Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, Grace, and Almanzo and Laura’s baby boy that died in infancy.
From there, we went to The Big Slough as described in By the Shores of Silver Lake. The Big Slough was a bit of a letdown, mostly because I had no idea what a slough was as a kid, so I had imagined it as a giant hill or something! Turns out, it’s a wetlands, similar to a swamp or marsh.
Silver Lake was a bit harder to find. Our GPS showed us where the lake was located, but we couldn’t find a way to it! After a bit of investigating, we found a back road that led closer to it where we could park my car and hike down to the lake.
Although we didn’t get to visit Spirit Lake, Lake Thompson, or Lake Henry (the lakes that Laura and Almanzo visited on their buggy rides during their courting days in These Happy Golden Years), we did get to see Silver Lake. It’s been a long time since I’ve read the Little House books, so I can’t say for certain if they ever visited Silver Lake on their buggy rides… but I’ll just pretend they did 🙂
Speaking of These Happy Golden Years, that was my favorite Little House book by far. The mystery, the drama, and (of course) the romance! It’s a bit of a romance novel appropriate for elementary-schoolers to read (Laura and Almanzo don’t kiss until they’re engaged!) I must have re-read this book a dozen times throughout my childhood and even into my young adulthood. Naturally, my “first fictional crush” was Almanzo Wilder. It was so special to see the place where Laura and “Manly” (as she called him) fell in love, with my own Manly 🙂
Our last stop of the day was visiting the Ingalls Homestead. There were tons of fun family-friendly activities there, such as going inside of a dugout house (like the ones the Ingalls lived in on the Banks of Plum Creek in Walnut Grove, MN), pumping water from the well, visiting an 1880s schoolhouse, seeing the Burvee family shanty house, etc. You could easily spend an entire day here– and we wanted to! Out of our entire 4 hours in De Smet, we spend about 2.5 hours here.
They even had farm animals like calves, horses, and barn cats for children and animal-lovers like myself to pet! 🙂
They even have camping at the Homestead, where you can stay overnight in a covered wagon! (Hint hint, Andy!)
Overall, our trip to De Smet was a childhood dream come true! I can’t wait to have daughters someday and experience the magic of Little House with them! 🙂
Did you ever read the Little House series as a child?
Which is your favorite Little House series book?