A Virtual Tour of Rose Wilder Lane’s former Danbury Home

Rose Wilder Lane’s former residence at 23 King Street, Danbury, Connecticut has been listed for sale.  This week, I spoke to the real estate agent and obtained the owner’s permission to share the following photographs as a virtual tour.
Rose Wilder Lane Home 1In March 1938, Rose Wilder Lane made a $2,600 down payment and secured a $900 mortgage against the property.  She wrote to Burton Rascoe (a Newsweek journalist) saying that she had purchased a “little farmhouse” on land that was complete “with old apple trees and lilacs”.  The private and tranquil property, which she wrote about so fondly and with great expectations for the future, would be the place she would call home for more than 25 years.  And by all accounts, the residence was immaculate when Rose moved in.  Perhaps that was why she inherited two cats that refused to leave with the previous owners!
1b Front of HouseDuring her period of residence in Danbury, Rose provided editorial assistance for several of her mother’s Little House® books, including By The Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years.  After Laura Ingalls Wilder’s death in 1957, Rose became the driving force behind publication of On the Way Home, which contained Laura’s original diary from the trip she made with her husband Almanzo Wilder and Rose from South Dakota to Missouri in 1894.  Apart from the work that Rose did on her mother’s novels; however, Rose’s own writing in Danbury became increasingly focused on political and social theory.
2 Rear of HouseWhen Rose purchased the property in 1938, the home was relatively small and measured a modest 23ft x 24ft.  At the time, its primary features included a large porch and an attached woodshed.  But over the next two-and-a-half decades, Rose would undertake a series of expensive renovations and attractive additions, which would see the home evolve into a much larger and enviable residence, capable of hosting a veritable who’s who of visiting writers and intellectuals, including Genevieve Parkhurst, Norma Lee Browning and Roger Lea MacBride. Today, the home features four bedrooms, four bathrooms and covers an expansive area of 3,505 square feet.
4 Lounge Room 4a Lounge Room In 1949, Rose wrote in her journal about some of her renovation accomplishments.  She noted the construction of fire places in the living room and study, and the installation of bay windows in her bedroom.  She also wrote about the construction of a new upstairs porch between her bedroom and the original lumber room (wood shed).
7 Bedroom 8 Bedroom 8 BathroomArguably, the most attractive feature of this home is the large kitchen and breakfast room, which features a unique brick floor (below).  Rose designed and coordinated its construction and the outcomes of her efforts were featured in an October 1960 edition of Woman’s Day magazine.  The article included a candid picture of Rose sitting at her table, which may have been captured without her knowledge, because she was wearing a dust-cap on her head.  That particular picture is reproduced on page 216 of William Holtz’s book, “The Ghost in the Little House” (1993). 5 Kitchen 5a Kitchen 6 Dining Room
A Danbury newspaper once reported that Rose’s library consisted of approximately 10,000 books.  This is not surprising, since Rose was a voracious reader from a very young age.  Most of her collection would have been stored in this impressive room (below), which features floor to ceiling bookshelves.9 Library
Today, the home at 23 King Street overlooks a large and immaculate garden, featuring a waterfall that cascades into a koi fish-pond. With an overall block size of 2.03 acres, Rose Wilder Lane would have found this ample to support her goal of a largely self-sufficient lifestyle, particularly during the Second World War.  In the spring of 1943, she negotiated with her neighbors to share a cow, some pigs and chickens, which no doubt became an important source of butter, cheese, eggs and ham.  She also planted a large vegetable garden and at one time had approximately 1,200 jars of home-canned food in her cellar. 3 Rear of House 12 Gardens 10 Gardens 11 Gardens 13 Gardens
The home at 23 King Street is listed by ERA Goodfellow Homes.  If you are interested in purchasing this property, the agent, Demaree Cooney can be contacted on (203) 417-0304 to arrange a viewing.  The current asking price is $450,000.

November or December for Pioneer Girl? Who to believe?

Since they’re both owned by the same company, I was surprised to find two different dates listed on Amazon and The Book Depository for the much anticipated release of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography.

If Amazon is correct, I will have some terrific Christmas reading.


On the other hand, if I’m to rely on The Book Depository, it’s a New Year’s Eve delivery at best.


The Book Depository Listing of Pioneer Girl.

Sure, it’s only a small rant, but some consistency would be welcome.

South Dakota State Historical Society – Images from BEA

The South Dakota State Historical Society Press just updated their Facebook page with a series of images from their display at Book Expo America a couple of weeks ago.  I know, I know – the expo is well and truly old news.  But like most Laura fans, I’ve been waiting to hold Pioneer Girl in my hands as a “proper book” (i.e. sans bulldog clip) for over 20 years. I can’t help but share my excitement about these preliminary activities with the world.


7 Best Things to See & Do in Walnut Grove, Minnesota

It’s easy to characterize Walnut Grove as just another sleepy town in south western Minnesota. On the surface, there is little to distinguish it from other villages in the region. There’s a water tower, a small diner and the ubiquitous railway line. Peak hour traffic and traffic lights are non-existent. But dig a little deeper and you’ll discover that Walnut Grove has special literary and historical significance. As the former childhood home of pioneer author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, the town offers more for visitors than is immediately apparent. Instead of driving straight ahead, slow down and take the turn into town. In doing so, you’ll discover plenty of ways to spend a full day in the real locale that inspired the famous Little House® book, On the Banks of Plum Creek.

Walnut Grove is located on Highway 14, approximately 3 hours drive west of Minneapolis.  It is the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Laura Ingalls Wilder never mentioned the town of Walnut Grove by name in her books, but in 1974 when NBC first aired the Little House on the Prairie TV series, people immediately made a connection and it wasn’t long before a steady stream of tourists started arriving in town. This year, both the TV series and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove are celebrating their 40th anniversaries. On July 25-27th, a TV show reunion is planned to occur in the town, with many of the show’s stars slated to appear.

On The Trail – To Walnut Grove and Back
In 1874, Laura Ingalls and her family relocated from Pepin, Wisconsin to a farm approximately 2 ½ miles north of Walnut Grove. The family initially lived in a dugout on Plum Creek and afterwards in a framed house close by (no longer standing). After a series of successive crop failures, the family left Walnut Grove in the summer of 1876 and moved to Burr Oak, Iowa to help run a hotel (below). It would have been a period of intense sadness for the Ingalls family, due not only to the failure of their farm, but because Laura’s baby brother, Charles Frederick died before they reached Burr Oak.

The Ingalls family lived and worked at this hotel in Burr Oak, Iowa alongside William and Mary Steadman.

Laura never published her memories of living in Burr Oak. And despite some happy times, most notably the birth of her sister, Grace Pearl in May 1877, the Ingalls did not see a future for themselves in the town. The social environment was not ideal and money was extremely tight. Charles decided it was time to move on and the family returned to Walnut Grove in 1878. Instead of living on their farm near Plum Creek, the Ingalls resided in town. They remained there until Charles took a job with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad in 1879 as a book-keeper, time-keeper and store-keeper. The new job would eventually take them to Dakota Territory.

But what does 21st century Walnut Grove have to offer visitors?  Read on for our picks of the seven best things to see and do in town.

1. Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum
For many Wilder fans, the museum (below) is their first port-of-call in Walnut Grove. Visitors can learn about the history of the real Ingalls family and the time they lived in the area. Unique to the museum is the combination of exhibits relating to both the real Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House on the Prairie TV series. While purist Wilder fans can enjoy viewing items that belonged to the real Laura, including a sewing basket and quilt; TV show fans can salivate over an entire room full of memorabilia from the beloved series. Popular items include the actual mantel from the show, a selection of TV props and a wall mural (pictured below) depicting Oleson’s Mercantile, the school house / church and other points of interest from the TV town.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum was established in 1974 and is located at 330 Eighth Street.

This mural of the TV version of Walnut Grove was painted by Greg Preslicka, a Minnesota based artist.

004 - LHOTP Mantle

The museum’s multiple buildings are positioned around a planting of wildflowers, similar to what Laura would have seen when she lived near Plum Creek. Each building focuses on a particular aspect of pioneer life. Visitors can view equipment from the former Walnut Grove Tribune office, see inside the home of an early Walnut Grove settler (pictured below) and imagine themselves as a child, learning their lessons in a one-room school. The museum also features a replica dugout (actually, it’s more of a sod-house – there is a difference), a display of more than 300 Kelton dolls and a kitchen exhibit.

This early settler’s home was located on land once owned by Eleck Nelson, a neighbor of the Ingalls family.

Those with no interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder can easily spend an hour at the museum, but Little House devotees can (and do) spend much longer.

2. The Dugout on Plum Creek
No visit to Walnut Grove is complete without visiting the remains of Laura’s dugout home on Plum Creek, just north of town. Wading in the cool waters remains a favorite of many visitors and I admit to never tiring of getting my own feet muddy and clothes wet when I visit. The feeling of the mushy creek bottom and the tiniest of little fish nibbling at my legs takes me back to my own memories of childhood and a simpler time. A marked walking trail is also open to visitors.

A marker highlights a depression in the creek bank, where Laura’s dugout home used to be.

Wading in the water of Plum Creek adjacent to the remains of Laura’s dugout home continues to be a favorite for visitors to Walnut Grove.

The land on which the dugout exists is privately owned and farmed. The owners graciously allow visitors to access their land for a small fee and ask this to be deposited into an honesty box, just a short drive inside the farm’s entrance (below). There are no restrooms, so visitors should plan accordingly. Sufficient turning space is available for RVs.

3.  Family Festival
A few weekends every summer, Walnut Grove comes alive with its annual Family Festival. City Park is where most of the action occurs, with both kids and adults being catered for. There is a Laura and Nellie look-alike contest, live music, craft and food stalls, plus a variety of pioneer demonstrations. Quite often, the festival features celebrity appearances from the Little House on the Prairie TV series.

011 – Little House Stars

4. Wilder Pageant – Fragments of a Dream
The Wilder Pageant, also known as “Fragments of a Dream” is an outdoor play / drama presented over three weekends every summer. Patrons sit on folding chairs or blankets on an embankment overlooking Plum Creek. From here, they watch local and nearby residents present a rendition of the life and times of the Ingalls family during the early years of Walnut Grove. The atmosphere is almost haunting as the sun sets and the chorus sings. Patrons are encouraged to visit with the cast after the performance (pictured below).

Wilder Pageant cast members enjoy a moment with Laura / Nellie look-alike contest participants after the evening’s performance in 2010.

The Wilder Pageant set is well constructed and maintained.  Be sure to look out for the sophisticated use of pulleys during the church construction scene.

5. Driving Tour of Town
Many visitors enjoy driving around the town to see parcels of land where Laura went to church and school. Although the Congregational Church that she wrote about was demolished in 1954, the bell that Charles helped to purchase can still be seen by visitors. Today, it hangs in the belfry of the English Lutheran Church on the corner of 5th and Wiggins Streets (below).

Located across the street from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum is the former Masters Hotel (below). Laura worked here during the summer of 1878. The building is now a private home and is not available for viewing.

The Masters Hotel, which is now a private residence.

Approximately 35% of Walnut Grove’s residents are Hmong. As a tribute to the fusion of traditional Hmong and American pioneer culture, a large mural was recently painted on the side of the Bubai Food Store (pictured below). It was created by Greg Wimmer, a Rochester based artist.

Painted by Greg Wimmer, this mural is located on the corner of 6th and Main Streets.

6. Shopping
The town has a couple of stores that cater for people wanting to buy antiques. Junk with Purpose is located on the northern side of Highway 14 and sells re-purposed furniture, clothing, primitive style trinkets and ephemera. I’ve picked up a few small pieces here over the years and everything is quite reasonably priced. Another popular store is Fond Memories at the Creamery, which is located on Main Street in a building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As the business name suggests, the building once served as a cooperative milk processing facility. The store stocks a large range of scrapbooking supplies and stamps, many of which have a pioneer or Laura Ingalls Wilder inspired theme. Visitors will also find a range of antiques, giftware, jewellery and other small items for sale.

7. Eating at Nellie’s Café or the Walnut Grove Bar & Grill
Luckily, visitors are unlikely to find Alison Arngrim cooking her notorious cinnamon chicken at Nellie’s Café in Walnut Grove.  Instead, patrons will find far more appetizing fare at this small diner, located on Highway 14. Visitors should remember that many establishments in mid-western towns close relatively early – so be sure to plan accordingly. The café can become packed with diners during the annual Family Festival, so once again, plan ahead. When you’re there, be sure to check out the notice board area at the entrance to see a few mementos of visitors from the Little House on the Prairie TV series.

Nellie’s Café is located on the north side of Highway 14.  It has recently undergone a facelift and the red paint has been replaced by a stucco and rockwork facing.

The Walnut Grove Bar & Grill offers regular pub-fare and is the only bar in town. Unlike others I’ve been to over the years, this one has a friendly atmosphere and I’ve never felt uncomfortable as a woman travelling alone and sitting down for a meal or drink.

Places to Stay
At the present time (June 2014), there is no dedicated lodging in Walnut Grove, other than camping at Plum Creek County Park. The closest nearby accommodation is in Tracy, Minnesota – located 8 miles west. The accommodation options there include an older style drive up motel (Wilder Inn) and the Valentine Inn Bed & Breakfast. If you can’t find accommodation in Tracy, a number of other nearby towns have motel style lodging, including, but not limited to Lamberton (10 miles east), Springfield (25 miles east) and Marshall (30 miles north west).

Enjoy your trip to Walnut Grove.

Book Expo America 2014 – Highlights for Me (Part 1)

The Cottonwood Tree:

Beth went to Book Expo America last week and look at what she found! Because you can never have too many book bags. She hints about Pioneer Girl being pushed back until the holidays. Can this be true? Say it isn’t so!

Originally posted on Beth's Book-Nook Blog:

So last week I travelled to NYC for the biggest publishing industry event: Book Expo America (BEA).

I have attended the bloggers’ conference at BEA twice before, but this year decided to attend the actual BEA conference as well. It was exciting, but huge and overwhelming at the same time. I had planned to attend several sessions, especially those highlighting what was new and forthcoming in different genres, but I actually spent all my time in the exhibit halls, gathering info and books or waiting in lines to get a signed book from an author.

If you enjoy collecting book bags then BEA is the place for you! I only take things I really want, and I still ended up with five book bags. This is a picture of my favorite one:

10299005_10152156817828339_8290662918476011710_n bookbag

I was SO very excited to see the South Dakota State Historical Press at BEA as they are…

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Laura’s Onion Pie

After discovering that unexpected visitors would soon be arriving for Sunday brunch, I quickly asked myself, “What could I serve that was tasty, but could be prepared in a hurry and looked like I’d made an effort?”  I turned to the pages of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook and settled on a rather unappetizingly named recipe that Laura called Onion Pie. With the ingredients sounding so yummy, I decided to overlook the name – and my concerns about bad breath!

Onion Pie

The recipe (on page 37) called for fried onions and bacon, to which I added a mixture of eggs and milk.  The entire thing was cooked in a piecrust and topped with cheese.  I served ours with green salad and French loaf bread.  Having both cheese and bacon in the dish made it a little greasy and I was glad I didn’t add extra oil to the initial frying process.  If you wanted a healthier option, you could easily swap out the bacon for ham.

I thought it was interesting that Laura referred to this recipe as a pie, because the finished product looks more like a quiche.  It also tasted like a quiche, due to how the eggs were used.  In any case, it was a real crowd pleaser.