Thursday, April 26, 2007


My Laura Ingalls Wilder Tour (Part 3)

Okay, where was I? Oh yes, driving on to De Smet, South Dakota.

When I got to DeSmet, I went first to the middle of town, Main Street (Click all photos for bigger versions):

On the left as you drive in is Loftus' Store and it is the original building:

Across the street and up a few doors is the site where Pa's store building used to be. There is a plaque on the corner of this building identifying it as such.

Here is a map of town that I got from the Hoover Library-Museum.

So this was my first (and so far only) trip to the great plains/midwest (where does midwest stop and plains begin? Anyone?) and what struck me in all these small towns I was driving through were the widths of the Main Streets (or Front Streets). Why were they made so wide way back when?

My first big stop was to visit the Surveyor's House. This house was an important place in "By The Shores Of Silver Lake." I talked about it on my bookshelf blog a while back. I'll quote myself from Christmas Eve, 2005. Let's start with a description of their first Shanty in South Dakota. This is from the book written by Laura (shortened by me):

The new shanty stood alone by the lake shore. It shone yellow in the sunshine; a little house almost lost in the grasses and its little roof sloped all one way as if it were only half a roof ... Everything must be unpacked and the shanty made ready before noon ... From the company store, Ma bought yards of bright figured calico for curtains. They made a curtain and they hung it across the shanty, shutting the bunks behind it. Then she made another curtain and hung it between the bunks so there were two bedrooms, one for her and Pa, the other for the girls. The shanty was so small the curtains touched the bunks ...Then in front of the curtain was the room to live in. It was very small with the cookstove at the end by the door. Ma and Laura placed the drop leaf table against the side wall, before the open front door. Mary's rocking chair and Ma's they put on the other side of the room. The floor was bare ground, with humps of obstinate grass roots in it, but they swept it clean. "This is another kind of little house only with half a roof and no window," said Ma. "But it's a tight roof, and we don't need a window, so much air and light come in through the door."

They lived in the shanty for the summer and thought they would have to go back east for winter as there was no town yet, just the beginnings of a railroad. But Pa struck a deal to housesit for the surveyors all winter, protect their tools, watch over their house. Laura describes it as "that house, that real house:"

It was a big house, a real house with two stories, and glass windows. The door had a china knob....This house had board floors. Laura looked at the large front room ...The surveyors had left their stove! It has six lids on top and two oven doors... Spaced on the wall behind it were three doors. All of them were shut. Laura tiptoed across the wide floor and softly opened one door. There was a small room with a bedstead in it. This room had a window too. Softly Laura opened the middle door...Steeply up in front of her went a stair...She went up a few steps and a big attic opened out on both sides of the stairs. It was twice as big as the big room downstairs. A window in each gable end lighted the whole empty place under the roof.

That was three rooms already...She opened the third door. There before her eyes was a little store. All up the walls of that small room were shelves, and on the shelves were dishes, and pans and pots, and boxes and cans. All around under the shelves stood barrels and boxes. (The pantry was packed with food: flour and cornmeal and salt pork and beans and soda crackers and canned fruits and vegetables, coffee and tea.)

So in all my years reading these books and in my imagination, I agreed with Laura, it was a big house! And then I went there, to the actual house and took a tour. Here is the outside (with me):

Visitors were not allowed to take photos inside. But by the magic of the interwebs, I have borrowed some photos from the above linked website:

It was small, smaller than my house and I live in 950 square feet. I walked in and felt overwhelmed with how freaking hard it was for those settlers, living in tiny shacks with dirt floors, lucky to get a window and to not freeze to death in the winter. I am not sure what I was feeling, I kept thinking, "Oh my god Laura, this place is tiny, but now seeing all of this in real life, I understand why this house was like a palace to you." It was moving, I can't explain it.

More to come.

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