Growing up, our family always took the same vacation every year to Branson, Missouri. My parents still go every June no fail. It’s the perfect blend of what they both love; fishing and shopping. That is, my Dad fishes and my mom shops! We did the usual spots at Silver Dollar City, Shepherd of the Hills, Starvin’ Marvin’s, and Dick’s 5 & 10. None of that Andy Williams Theater stuff for the Moersch clan.
On the way there we’d visit Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, MO. This is where she wrote her books and lived out the latter part of her life.
Little House on the Prairie was huge in our house growing up. We read the books over and over, and we watched the TV show religiously, often during dinner. It’s still fascinating that someone who was a part of the country’s history of pioneer settlers lived in my lifetime.
She brought the past to life for me and that feeling keeps me going back.
Jenne and I still visit Rocky Ridge Farm, as it’s called, and have watched it grow over the decades. It’s so great to carry on the family tradition with our own kids.
When I was growing up, you could tour the main house, a rock house nearby that their daughter had built for them, and the museum/gift shop. The most exciting thing there in my eyes is Pa’s fiddle! If you read the books, or heck even watched the show, you know just how iconic Pa’s fiddle is to Laura’s childhood and the stories she made.
We’ve been lucky enough to be able to hear Pa’s fiddle played, in both outside concerts and at an indoor private show, and it still sounds absolutely beautiful. This was the same sound from the same instrument that they danced to all those years ago! Swoon!
Nowadays, along with the homes to tour, they’ve opened a brand new museum down the road that details the writings and travels of both Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, activist and writer Rose Wilder Lane. They also plan to rebuild Almanzo’s workshop and other outbuildings that have been lost to the ages. You can check out the Mansfield, MO Laura Ingalls Wilder homesite here.
The town hasn’t forgotten her either.
They still have “Laura Days” where they celebrate the author in town square. There’s a bust of her there in view of Nellie’s Ice Cream Shop and an amazing coffee shop/bed and breakfast called the Weaver Inn that we stay at when in town. You can also visit her gravesite at the local cemetery.
It’s a dream of ours to visit all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites around the Midwest (and the one outlier- Almanzo’s childhood home in Malone, NY). So far we’ve been to Independence, Kansas to visit the actual “Little House on the Prairie” and our beloved Rocky Ridge, but I’m sure one day we’ll see the rest!
Other than going in a car, it is as rural and wild as it ever was. At night there are no lights – you see all the stars! When you’re looking out the front of the little house, you see nothing but the prairie all around – the pictures in the books are exactly what you see there.
I’m convinced that the Independence, KS Little House on the Prairie site hasn’t change much from back in Laura’s day.
It’s difficult to find The Little House on the Prairie site in Independence, KS site. The homestead is very out of the way. Once you find it they have an exact replica of the house and wagon, a period-accurate school house, and a post office . There’s also a gift shop that we spent a little too much money in. However, do you know the best part of the homestead in my humble opinion?
They have the actual well that Pa hand dug (and almost died while digging it). Tje trees that Pa planted nearby the house and well are still there.
They weren’t there too long. It didn’t take long for Pa to get the itch to move his family further west. This move was also precipitated by being on property that the Native Americans still had rights to).
On the way to Independence you pass through so many towns. The cutest is a little town right near the Missouri/Kansas line is called Baxter Springs. It’s picturesque with original buildings, historical plaques and an actual soda shop! Their jailhouse is right out of a period piece from the 1920’s. We ate at a restaurant that used to be a bank . They had great food and architecture called Cafe on the Route.
It sits along the river and is worth a visit on the way to Independence if you’re following Route 66.
I’m so happy that we took this tradition and made it our own. It’s led to other adventures. Our kids have been able to take those same peeks into the past that we did. Plus, I’m sure our Dad doesn’t mind not taking that side trip any longer.
Are there any travel traditions your family started that you’ve continued on with your kids? We’d love to hear them!