Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Road Trip ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder's Rocky Ridge Farm

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Almonzo Wilder, Little House Books, road trip, Missouri

Do your children have favorite authors? Did you when you were growing up? One series that I enjoyed as a child and then our girls read and enjoyed were the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. That is why we were so excited to get to stop at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, MO recently and visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum. This was a road trip worth remembering!

The last time we traveled through this Southwestern part of Missouri was 2013. At the time, we did not realize just how close we were to Rocky Ridge Farm until we were on our way home again and simply could not fit in a visit. This time, when Arlene learned we were planning another trip through the area, she stated “WE HAVE TO visit Rocky Ridge this time - no matter what else we do!” 

Our trip began on Arlene’s 18th birthday, and after almost an entire week of amazing stops around Missouri and Oklahoma we arrived at Mansfield, MO and Rocky Ridge Farm. On the property are Laura and Almonzo’s Farmhouse, and the Rock House. These two homes were where Laura wrote all nine of her Little House series of books, including Farmer Boy. Getting to learn more about Laura and Almonzo’s life was a real treat for all of us, even Kurt. For Arlene and I, who both write regularly, standing inside Laura’s homes provided extra inspiration to keep writing, keep refining our writing skills, and to remember that we each have a story to tell the world.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Almonzo Wilder, Little House Books, road trip, Missouri

When you first arrive at Rocky Ridge, you will stop at the new (2106) museum center. Here you will purchase your tickets for visiting the homes, see a fantastic museum filled with Wilder and Ingalls family memorabilia, and visit the gift shop. This museum center is a welcoming sight for the 30,000 annual visitors to Rocky Ridge Farm. The staff are warm and welcoming, the museum displays are well done, and the restrooms are clean and bright. We were especially excited to see Pa Ingalls’ fiddle on display. Each September the farm hosts Wilder Day and Pa’s fiddle is brought out and played. How exciting that must be for visitors since so many of Laura’s childhood memories were centered around her Pa playing music on his fiddle. The tickets are designed as souvenirs and make excellent bookmarks to remind you of your visit.

Take your time on your trip through the museum. Enjoy the movie that tells about the history of Rocky Ridge and the Wilder family. On the day we visited there were a variety of guests. Some families with younger children, and several older couples, as well as singles. While it still would have been interesting to go by myself, I am really happy we took the whole family to enjoy the adventure! If you are headed to either Springfield or Branson, MO you should definitely make this a stop on your trip! Mansfield is 45 miles East of Springfield, MO and about an hour and a half Northeast of Branson.

Once you are finished in the museum you can walk the path over to the farmhouse. For those with mobility issues, there is a limited mount of handicapped parking near the farmhouse. The museum and homes are open from March 1- November 15 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday- Saturday, and on Sundays from 12:30-5:00 p.m. (Closed  Easter Sunday)

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Almonzo Wilder, Little House Books, road trip, Missouri

For the historic Farmhouse there are guided tours every half hour, which begin at the back of the house in the kitchen (the first room built) and end in the room by the front porch. A huge thank you to our docent Sarah, as our entire group had questions and she patiently answered all of them that she could. You are not allowed to take any photos in the historic homes or the museum. But you are allowed to take as many of the outside of the homes or in the gift shop as you want. Even if you could take photos in the homes, the photos would not do justice to your trip. I’m so glad we made these family memories together - for those will last a lifetime! 

On a side note, to those interested in historic preservation and museums in general, I was amazed, yes, amazed at how well this historic site runs! They do not receive any royalties from the Little House book series, due to a decision made by Laura and Almonzo’s daughter, Rose, to gift the rights to a family friend upon her death instead of back to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association, as Laura had wished. Having spent several years volunteering at a living history museum, I understand just how expensive it can be to maintain and interpret historic homes. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association has done a fantastic job stewarding the resources they have, caring for the homes and making this a phenomenal road trip destination! They operate on ticket sales, donations, fundraisers, and gift shop sales. Truly amazing! They are to be commended for their hard work and diligence to continue to make this adventure possible for Little House fans of all ages. Tickets are reasonably priced at $14 for adults and $7 for children 6 to 17. Five and under are free.

Back to the farmhouse…
For those of you who have read the Little House books, or watched the TV series, you remember that Pa called Laura his Half-pint. That name was so appropriate when you realize Laura only grew to be 4’11” tall. While not a particularly rare height at the time, the life-sized cutout of her in the farmhouse kitchen gave us all a moment’s pause as we thought about the home. As she and Almonzo built their beloved farmhouse, they had it scaled for themselves. That means all of the counters, cabinets, doorways, and chairs looked a little small when my 6’4” tall husband was standing next to them. Almonzo had Laura’s Adirondack-style chair built with extra wide arms because she loved to sit in it and write her newspaper columns and books. Laura wrote with pencil and paper, something not many authors do anymore, but a habit I find refreshing because it causes me to stop and think about my words, instead of typing aimlessly. Laura’s daughter Rose was also a writer, and probably preferred a typewriter, since Rose was rather progressive.

The farmhouse was built room by room as Laura and Almonzo saved enough money. So many things inside reminded me of my great-grandparents’ home. The Wilder Home Association preserved the home after Laura passed away in 1957, so they entire feels is late 1940’s to early 1950’s farmhouse. You’re probably wishing I could describe it all, but I just cannot - you have to see it for yourself to truly appreciate it! Amazing - simply amazing. It’s like Laura and Almonzo just stepped out for a bit and will return any moment.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Almonzo Wilder, Little House Books, road trip, Missouri

At the other end of the property, just a few minutes away by car, is the Rock House. This home was a gift from Rose to her parents, a Sears Roebuck catalog house (The Mitchell) that was built on Rocky Ridge Farm, covered in stone, and dubbed the Rock House. When Laura and Almonzo moved in, it had all the latest conveniences. While living here Laura wrote the first four of her Little house books. Later, Laura and Almonzo returned to their beloved farmhouse where she wrote her other five books. The Rock House is a self-guided tour with a docent available to answer your questions. Rhonda was there during our visit and shared some interesting stories about the Rock House and the Wilders’ time living there. 

As a family we agreed that you should set aside at least two hours for your visit, but three would be preferable. There are several benches around the museum grounds, and we stopped to have a picnic lunch after viewing the Farmhouse before we visited the Rock House. The Association is working to raise funds to restore the Wilder family walking trail between the two homes. I would like to return after the trail is finished and walk the ground that Laura and Almonzo called home, while thinking about my own writing. Before she wrote her books, Laura was well known locally for her articles in the Missouri Ruralist, a farm journal. Visiting her homes in Mansfield opened up a better understanding of her adult life, past her book, The First Four Years.

After we were done at Rocky Ridge Farm, we drove back into Mansfield to the cemetery to see where Laura, Almonzo, and Rose are buried. It was encouraging to see how the town where Almonzo and Laura lived more than 60 years ago still loves them and honors their memory today.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Almonzo Wilder, Little House Books, road trip, Missouri

Later that afternoon we drove about 15 minutes north to visit the Baker Creek Historic Seed Company. As I was looking at all of the heirloom seed varieties, I wondered how many of them Laura and Almonzo had grown. All in all, it was an excellent day filled with adventure!

heirloom seeds, historic seeds, Baker Creek, Mansfield MO

You can help keep Laura’s legacy alive. Visit Rocky Ridge in person, purchase gifts from their online gift shop that is open all year long, or donate to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association. 

Keep up with the happenings at Rocky Ridge Farm by following their Facebook page.

A big thank you to Jean Coday, Anna Bradley, and all the amazing staff at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum for helping us plan and enjoy our visit!

To see more of the pictures from our road trip to Rocky Ridge, visit our Instagram account.

1 comment:

  1. This looks like such an interesting place to visit. I sometimes wish we lived in the middle of the US so we could visit more places more easily. Being on the east coast makes it harder to get out west.