A Visit to Almanzo Wilder’s Farm

July 31, 2013 2013, blogger perspectives, bookish trips, food in books, laura ingalls wilder, Wendy 62

Do you have a bookish place you’d like to visit? My list is ever-growing, and includes someday-journeys to Prince Edward Island, The Hundred Acre Wood, and Klickitat Street. The dream book trip, however, was one that was just realized for me: a visit to Almanzo Wilder’s farm in upstate New York.

I love the Little House books so much that I re-read them practically every year. My favorite book has always been Farmer Boy, in which Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about her husband Almanzo’s boyhood, so when one of my best friends conveniently had his wedding in the Finger Lakes, I gleefully plotted out the 5-hour day trip to Malone, New York. Which is out in the middle of nowhere, but that’s part of the charm! As my husband and I set off on our journey, it seemed Little House-appropriate that we would have to travel so far to get to it. I felt both giddy and scared; part of me couldn’t believe I was actually going to see this place that was so familiar to me, and so very dear.

“How could you not want to go to a place that you remember but have never been?”

~ Wendy McClure,
The Wilder Life

When the little red farmhouse finally came into view at the end of a long country road, I was nearly beside myself with excitement and practically bounced up to the visitor’s center. The Wilder homestead is the only “Laura site” in its original location, and is preserved thanks to an enterprising woman named Dorothy Belle Smith who tracked down the land and helped to reclaim 84 out of the family’s original 88 acres. The house is the very same house that Almanzo and his family lived in. (I think just about everyone was overwhelmed by a sense of awe–visitors spoke in hushed, reverential tones as if they didn’t want to break the spell.)


As we followed the tour guide I kept superimposing my memories of the book on top of what I was seeing. The front porch was where Almanzo dangled soft candy into his little pig’s mouth. The reconstructed barns were where Star and Bright were housed, and the snug courtyard was where Father would briskly urge the animals into a running circle so they wouldn’t freeze during the cold winter. The sheep barn also had stairs where Almanzo hauled a sheep up into the loft to hide it. The tiny living room–everything in the house was so tiny!–was where the family gathered for popcorn and milk after dinner. Mother’s kitchen was where insane amounts of food were produced.  The dining room was where Almanzo ate enormous breakfasts finished off with two slices of pie.

Photos weren’t allowed on the inside of the house, but I confess I snapped this one when the tour guide wasn’t looking. I mean, it’s the parlor! From my favorite chapter in the book, when the parents go away and the kids eat all the sugar in the house! The tour guide pointed out the exact spot behind the stove where Almanzo had thrown the blacking brush and made a mark upon the beautiful wallpaper. (I’m sorry, ALIWA, I couldn’t resist. I swear I didn’t use a flash and won’t do anything evil with the photograph.)

After the tour, we wandered around for awhile just taking it all in. It was astonishing and humbling to be in the very place where this family lived, and to walk through the small orchard and beautiful fields as far as the eye could see down the path to Trout River, where Almanzo swam and fished. Everything was utterly still, with nothing but the sound of the wind in the trees, the water moving over rocks, and the pleasant distant hum of unseen insects.

After we reluctantly left, we also pulled over a few miles away to take a photo of the fairgrounds where Almanzo won a prize for his milk-fed pumpkin, and where Mother and the girls won ribbons for their pies and preserves. They would have ridden in a coach much like the one below, which somehow fit all the children and the parents.

Fun facts: 

— Remember Mother’s fresh butter, which fetched such a handsome sum? Apparently it was so good that her butter costs the same amount that butter costs now, 150+ years later.

— The entrance to the root cellar where all the vegetables were stored is on the porch! It’s on the floor to the left of the front door.

— Mother’s loom was located, strangely enough, in the middle of Eliza Jane and Alice’s room in the attic. Father’s workroom was in the attic too, next to the boys’ room.

— The parent’s room is literally the size of a small walk-in closet. I know that people were smaller back then, but it is still amazing to me to see that the scale was almost like a playhouse in some places. In contrast, the barns were enormous, and were rebuilt in accordance to James Wilders’ original building plans.

— The Wilders kept a small bed in the living room, where weary travelers such as the Shoemaker or the Tin Peddler could rest overnight. But the bed was just uncomfortable enough so as not to encourage longer visits.

— The Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder Foundation has built a replica one-room schoolhouse, which will open in August. (I’m so jealous of my friends in the New York or Toronto areas, because the farm isn’t far from where you are.) There are also plans to build an ice house, which I’d love to see.

This trip meant so much to me.  It wasn’t until after I left that I understood why I got so teary as I looked around at all the places that I knew so well, and why every small discovery felt like such a treasure. I’ve read about Almanzo’s farm so many times that the rooms and the land is even more familiar to me than the houses where I grew up. So in many ways, it felt like I was coming home to a place I’d never been.

A few days before the trip, I started rereading Farmer Boy with my very patient husband (who took many of the photographs here and did all the driving), and we have about 100 pages left. I can’t wait to finish–and I know that the stories will be even more vivid now because of the life-changing experience of touching the land where Almanzo spent such a joyful youth. As an adult, he and Laura went through many years of hardship before they finally settled upon a happy end–and it’s thrilling that his family’s farm still stands as tribute to the golden experience of his childhood.

P.S. Thank You!

Thank you for your kind comments from my last post. I hesitated to share that, because I don’t want to focus on negative things here in this happy place. But I wanted to acknowledge that I have an ongoing struggle with blogging that I’m trying to get over, or at least to manage better. It’s strange to be in this position since there was a time a couple of years ago that I was posting a review almost every day. My love of reading and talking about books hasn’t changed, but the frustrations with this whole process definitely wears me down from time to time. But bookish experience like this one definitely help to lift my spirits.

I’ve been talking things over with Tonya and K about what we can do to address the occasional blogger ennui, however, and I am hopeful that we’ll bounce back within the coming weeks. To that end–we’re looking to add a (non-reviewing) intern to The Midnight Garden who would handle some regular features and housekeeping responsibilities, as well as possibly another contributing writer. More details to come!


Wendy signature teal


62 Responses to “A Visit to Almanzo Wilder’s Farm”

  1. Kathie Manning

    I am a semi-retired school teacher, currently at the Middle School level. I still do a couple of hours of Special Education English. I discovered that when you present the students with something they enjoy – relate to – and make English lessons from that, you accomplish 2 different things – introduce literature that they won’t forget and teach them the basic of English.

    I plan on starting the book Farmer Boy very soon with my 2 classes. I was excited to find someone who can “feel” history as I do. I have visited Laura’s and Almanzo’s house in Mansfield several times, and the feeling is still there each time I visit.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. KJ@letsgoflyakite

    I just stumbled upon your blog! I am reading Farmer Boy right now. I want to visit the Wilder Farm with my daughters. I hear next weekend Dean Butler (Almanzo) will be there for the school house dedication. You have a lovely blog, I have added it to my reader.

  3. Trish Hannon

    Wendy, thanks so much for sharing this! I loved all the The Little House books when I was younger and Farmer Boy was a great addition to the series. Even just reading your post has reminded me so much about that book – the paper in the parlour and yes Almonzo hiding the sheep to get ahead of the shearers! Such a lovely, innocent book that makes me feel happy just to think about it. What a great experience to visit and relive all your bookish memories!

  4. Donna Smith

    Wow! This sounds like it was such an amazing experience for you. I remember watching Little House on the Prairie when I was young but I never read the books. I feel like I really missed out on something special! I’m SO glad you were able to have this experience though. I would love to go to England and visit all of the places associated with Anne Boleyn one day.

  5. Melissas Midnight Musings

    I hope that this doesn’t sound weird, but I got chills when reading this post. It’s just so cool that you got to go and visit a real life place that so many of us have read about. I loved the Little House books as a child. This post has reminded me that I really need to read them again.

  6. Bonnie R

    That’s so awesome that you were able to go see it considering how much you love the books. :) You definitely inspire me to pick up that series again though (have only read the first one a bajillion years ago). I know, don’t hate me. Planning a re-read anytime soon? :)

  7. Lyn Kaye

    Wendy, that is so amazing! I had no idea that this even existed! The land is so beautiful, and I am thrilled that someone set out to restore the land!

  8. LisaFicTalk

    That was so… dreamy. *sigh*

    Beautiful post, Wends.

    I definitely need to get this book for my niece once she’s a little older. Right now she’s into drawing so we’ll see. :)

  9. LisaFicTalk

    That was so… dreamy. *sigh*

    Beautiful post, Wends.

    I definitely need to get this book for my niece once she’s a little older. Right now she’s into drawing so we’ll see. :)

  10. Kate @ Ex Libris

    AAAAHHHHH!!! I have always wanted to do a Little House tour! I was **obsessed** with this series as a child. I still have the original boxed set that I got for Christmas when I was a kid. This is now on my literary tour list. I visited the Alcott house in Concord, MA when I lived in Boston and that was another surreal moment from a book I read 10K times as a kid.

    Kate @ Ex Libris

    • Wendy Darling

      Omg, Kate, dooooo it. It’ll be one of the best things you’ll ever do for yourself.

      I, um, am still obsessed with Laura. :) I am amazed you still have your set from childhood! I checked mine out from the library, so when I was old enough to buy them myself, I went and purchased ones on ebay that matched the hardback editions I read.

      I’ve heard the Alcott house is amazing, too. My (other) friend Kate from whatyareading.net said she cried when she saw it.

  11. Kim

    I adored these books as a kid. It’s so cool that you got to go visit the real location! I’ve never really taken a bookish trip, but I have a journal full of possible locations. I’d love to do it soon :)

    Thanks for sharing all the pictures!

    • Wendy Darling

      I highly recommend the bookish trip, Kim. Now that I’ve done it (I’ve had little visits here and there, but this was definitely the most specifically planned), I am determined to do some more.

  12. Renae M.

    Oh. My. Gosh. I am so jealous of you! When I lived in Kansas, I went to see the Little House on the Prairie site at least once a year. So cool! Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books were such a huge part of my childhood, and they’re probably the reason historical fiction remains my go-to genre.

    That is so cool you got to see all of this, Wendy! Thanks for sharing your pictures. <3

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh man, you got to go to a Laura site once a year? I am jealous of you! I can see how growing up with that experience would make you a life-long historical fiction fan.

  13. Keertana

    I just LOVED these books as a child and I’m so excited you actually got to visit this location! I’ll have to make a trip someday myself, though your re-cap is so thorough and vivid with all the beautiful pictures. Thanks, Wendy! I had no idea this place even existed, so this made my day!(:

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, do visit sometime if you get the chance, Keertana! It’s an amazing experience, especially if you loved the books.

  14. Melody Silverleaf

    What an amazing adventure!
    I too have a few literary locations I’d like to visit.
    I’m so thrilled I can live vicariously through your trip.

    • Wendy Darling

      I’ve lived vicariously through many a fellow bloggers’ bookish adventure, so I’m happy I was able to share this. I hope you get to visit some of your dream book places sometime!

  15. Ashley

    I just. I’m all choked up. This is my childhood. And growing up in Wisconsin I lucked out because of having a good amount of childhood books take place there. But really, this gave me all the feels in the world. Thank you for doing this post during your down period.

    I am thrilled to be an instagram follower. Yes, I freaked out when i saw that you were going there. <3

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh my gosh, you really did mean it was your childhood! You are so lucky to have grown up near Pepin. Have you gone back to visit as an adult?

      And hah, I have to exercise a huge amount of restraint on Instagram. The urge to post a zillion photos has to be tempered. :)

  16. ms. caboo

    What a wonderful trip! I am sure I would have cried buckets being there. I haven’t had a chance to go to Laura & Almanzo’s home in MO, but my sister has been there and to the cemetery. Some day I will go!

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s funny, because I teared up a lot (being there, and afterwards, and writing this post, and talking about it…), but I didn’t full-out cry–I think I was just too happy! And I’m happy still just to know that this place still exists.

      I’ve heard the Missouri site is AMAZING. I hope you get a chance to go sometime!

  17. Liz

    What a lovely adventure and a dream come true! I am so happy you got to live out your desire to visit when you had the chance. And kudos to the very patient and supportive hubs who went along with you!! <3

    I have to say that I’d love to visit the Scottish Highlands especially after reading the Outlander books, there and London which has been the setting for many other books that I’ve enjoyed!

  18. Liz

    What a lovely adventure and a dream come true! I am so happy you got to live out your desire to visit when you had the chance. And kudos to the very patient and supportive hubs who went along with you!! <3

    I have to say that I’d love to visit the Scottish Highlands especially after reading the Outlander books, there and London which has been the setting for many other books that I’ve enjoyed!

    • Wendy Darling

      I just never thought it was possible, Liz. And even though I did all the research and even called them to make sure they’d be open, part of me was afraid we’d get there and some sort of calamity would prevent us from seeing it! But it was absolutely lovely, and my understanding is the experience isn’t as museum-y as some of the other Laura sites.

      I’d like to visit Scotland in general. :) I should really reread Outlander sometime, I think I read the first book when I was too young to appreciate it. LONDON! I’ve been to London many times, but not with the eye towards literary pilgrimage. There are always amazing exhibits at the V&A Museum, though (my friend went to the Roald Dahl one), and I’ve seen the Pooh manuscripts in Cambridge!

  19. Karen

    What a wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing the photos.

    I’m glad that despite your blogging slump it hasn’t ruined your love of reading. That happened to me last year and it was awful.

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh Karen, I’ve missed talking to you! I am going to try to do blog visits next week.

      To be honest, I haven’t been reading any review books for over a month now, just adult books, books from childhood, etc. I’m having this…block that I’m really trying to get over, because it’s not the books’ fault at all. I just started a review book I like, though, so hopefully this easing back in goes smoothly.

      I’m sorry to hear you had a period where you weren’t enjoying reading last year, though. I’ve been through that too, and it just isn’t right!

  20. starryeyedjen

    This post itself brought tears to my eyes…I can’t imagine what actually being there was like. I haven’t read these books in ages, but I’m feeling the compulsion to do so soon. That, and I might trick my hubby into a literary road trip like this soon. :) Lovely post, Wendy. Just lovely.

    • Wendy Darling

      Ohhh. *hugs Jen* Thank you for understanding how amazing it is that the farm exists! I was at a wedding where most of the people asked about it with a sort of cautiously indulgent air. NOT BOOK PEOPLE at all.

      I hope you do reread them sometime, Jen. And I’ve found that puppy dog eyes work well for this sort of things when you broach the topic with husbands. ;)

    • Wendy Darling

      Hah, I kept waiting for someone to bring up a fictional place! I had a sentence in there about wanting to see Lyra Belacqua’s Oxford and Narnia, but I took it out because I was getting sidetracked. :)

  21. Moni

    Oh gosh its been forever since I read Farmer Boy… Little Town was always my personal favorite but they’re all absolutely amazing. It’s pretty awesome that you got to go and visit Almanzo’s home. Thanks for sharing this trip with us!!

    • Wendy Darling

      I liked Little Town on the Prairie, too! It felt like a little spot of happiness for them after suffering through the blizzard. But as you said, all the books are great. (Well, The First Four Years is kind of a downer, but still interesting nonetheless.)

  22. Shannelle C.

    If you’re jealous of people who live in New York, I’m jealous of people who live in the same country of these wonderful places!

    It sounds like you really enjoyed yourself there, though!

    I was wondering for a second there who were you talking about, but then it registered in my mind. Then I was hit by so much nostalgia. I read the series when I was still 12, I think. That was 3 years ago, but wow. It feels like I haven’t read the book in forever.

  23. Shannelle C.

    If you’re jealous of people who live in New York, I’m jealous of people who live in the same country of these wonderful places!

    It sounds like you really enjoyed yourself there, though!

    I was wondering for a second there who were you talking about, but then it registered in my mind. Then I was hit by so much nostalgia. I read the series when I was still 12, I think. That was 3 years ago, but wow. It feels like I haven’t read the book in forever.

    • Wendy Darling

      Aw! We are lucky to live in a place with a lot of literary connections, though I get pea-green when I hear about wonderful book events and exhibits happening over in England. I feel I need to make more of an effort to go to these places–some aren’t really all that far away.

      I hope you get a chance to revisit the books sometime–they’re an amazing account of a fascinating period in American history. I’m always interested when I hear people overseas have read the series, though–it doesn’t seem to be as widely read outside of America as Anne of Green Gables.

  24. Diamond Cronen

    Wow, Wendy– looks like you had a blast!! I love the pictures! Like, whoa :) the only literary spot I’ve traveled to is in Big Sur where Kerouac wrote part of the manuscript for Dharma Bums at Ferlingetti’s Cabin. Reading this makes me want to make a point to go on another literary trip! I hope you get to go on more and I can’t wait to hear all about it! ^_^

    • Wendy Darling

      For every photo I posted here, there are 10 more that you aren’t seeing, hah.

      Big Sur is gorgeous! We drove through it for the first time this spring, and it was just stunning. I wish I’d had time to see more of Steinbeck country in Monterey, but that’ll have to be another trip.

      And I’m the same way–every time I read about a literary road trip, I always dream-plot/price it!

  25. Kailia Sage

    Oh my word. I can clearly remember reading and loving Farmer Boy when I was about 13 so this post brings back so many memories. I’m a big fan of the books but I never realized that Almanzo’s farm actually existed in it’s full glory (plus, big thanks to Dorothy Belle Smith for not only getting most of the land but the house as well!

    • Wendy Darling

      III know–how awesome is it that the farm is still around? I couldn’t believe it.

      There’s a pretty spot on the farm under some tree shade with a stone marker for Ms. Smith. :) It’s a lovely tribute to her.

  26. Rachael

    I have to say even though I have done endless research on Laura Ingalls Wilder I never realized that more than a sign stood where Almanzo grew up. Thanks for adding another Laura Ingalls Wilder site to my list. I had some of the same feelings as you when I first saw her house in DeSmet, South Dakota. I had read the books just recently before seeing and I couldn’t get over the wonder of seeing the land where Laura lived. We spent 4-6 hours on her small farm just taking in the amazement. Then I got to Ma and Pa’s house that they lived in with Mary. It was the last house the three of them lived in. It was beautiful. I was in awe having that experience. I have been to Walnut Grove, Minnesota and seen the dug out and the TV museum. The place I’m dying to go to most of all is Mansfield, Missouri where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived her adult life. I’m so excited you got to see Almanzo’s house and it will be another site to add to my Laura list. I hope you will get to go to other places you mentioned above.

    • Wendy Darling

      Rachel! I didn’t realize until just a few years ago that the farmhouse still stood, either. It felt like a small miracle to me to discover that, especially in hearing that they had to contact Laura to figure out where the land was, and to buy up difference acreage from different people. I’m very curious who the holdout was for those remaining 4 acres, hah.

      That’s amazing you went to DeSmet! And were able to spend so much time there, too! (We had a 5 hour trip back, so I think we were only at the Wilder farm for a couple of hours, but could easily have stayed longer.) I would dearly love to see all those sites, especially Missouri since I hear that’s where the motherlode of Laura artifacts resides.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I hope you get to visit the Wilder Farm sometime, too!

  27. Bellas Shelf

    I am so jealous! LHOP was my fave show and books growing up. I swear I got teary eyed imaging being there. I would of been a bad girl and snapped a few pics too ;)
    Its amazing you go to visit! I have ALWAYS wanted to move to a place like that and lie until I was old and grey with my family or alone with a hundred cats and a few old dogs. lolz!

    • Wendy Darling

      Ohhh, a kindred spirit! I tear up just thinking about being there, too. It meant so much to me, I hope you are able to go to one of the sites sometime.

      That dream of moving to the countryside to retire sounds lovely. And I MAY have a few other forbidden photos that I didn’t post. :P I am such a rule-follower that I feel somewhat guilty about it, but we were very careful not to use a flash and won’t sell them or anything. It’s just I don’t know if I’ll ever be there again, and I want to be able to remember everything. *sigh*

  28. Steena

    I love book visits like these! So happy you were able to go and hopefully PEI is not far in the future. I can’t wait to see Green Gables. Visiting the Opera house in Paris was a dream come true for a Phantom of the Opera fan like myself. Here’s to more bookish adventures!

    • Wendy Darling

      I AM DETERMINED TO GO TO PEI. DETERMINED. My husband has been forewarned, hee hee. It’s going to be hard for me to distinguish the places between book and miniseries, though, since it was because of the series that I found the books. I love them both.

      I love book visits, too. And wow, the Opera House must’ve been amazing! It’s been a long time since I read Phantom, but I’ve seen the musical a bunch of times.

      A toast to many more bookish adventures for us both. :)

  29. ahz1

    Wendy – this is so cool that you had a chance to see this place. I loved the Little House on the prairie series so much and an added bonus – Malone is not that far from me!

    • Wendy Darling

      I had no idea you were a fellow Laura fan, AH–yay! And oh please please do visit Almanzo if you can. Malone is just under 5 hours from Toronto, and a lot of it is unspoiled countryside. Let me know if you end up making the trip!

  30. Liviania

    So wonderful! I love visiting places I’ve read about it books. It really is the strangest deja vu.

    (And now I know that Almanzo’s farm is still there, which I never would’ve suspected, and I totally have to visit myself.)

    • Wendy Darling

      Yes! What’s really unusual about this place, though, is that there are so many details to recognize–and there are specific things that happened to Almanzo in each of those places. So while I want to visit Klickitat street to see Ramona Quimby’s street, it’s not quite the same as if she had actually word her paper rabbit ears there, if you know what I mean. Even if Beverly Cleary did. :)

      But still, so many bookish places to visit. And having been to this one, I am determined to see more!

      And YES, please do visit if you can. I’ve read about varying degrees of pleasure insofar as what the Laura sites have to offer, but I can tell you that this being the original site and building, this was a truly transportive experience. If not for the paved road, it could easily have been 150 years ago. <3

  31. Laura BookSnob

    Oh my gosh Wendy, I am so jealous. I am reading Farmer Boy to my daughter right now, a chapter a night. Here is a funny coincidence, over the weekend I went to Walnut Grove, MN where On The Banks of Plum Creek was written about and saw where the dugout was and waded in Plum creek and stood on the big rock. It was AWESOME. I have visited 5 “Laura” sites and have 3 to go including Malone, NY. I will be writing a post about my visit in a few days. It is great to find another Laura Ingalls Wilder fan out there and a fellow blogger.

    My blog is http://www.booksnob-booksnob.blogspot.com
    I am so happy your literary dream of seeing Almanzo’s farm came true. I showed my daughter your pictures. Very Cool!!

    • Wendy Darling

      Ohhh, lucky daughter to have a mother who’s reading Little House with her! Is she enjoying Farmer Boy? I’m surprised at how many readers say it’s their least favorite book, in large part, it seems, because it’s about a boy.

      I AM SO JEALOUS that you have been to so many of the Laura sites! I read both The Wilder Life and My Life as Laura, both of which chronicle the authors’ trips to the various homes. I dearly want to do that pilgrimage someday (um, I’ve even priced out attending Laurapalooza), but I don’t know if that will ever actually happen. Have you blogged about your trips?

      I have been away from the blogosphere for a few weeks so am still playing catch-up, but will definitely drop in to visit sometime soon. :) Thanks for stopping by!

  32. Brianna

    That trip sounds amazing! I’m sure re-reading those books will have a whole new outlook now that you’ve physically seen the farm.

    Brianna @ Listfulbooking.blogspot.com

    • Wendy Darling

      Absolutely! It’s going to be fun to compare what’s in the book to reality. What’s interesting to me is that Laura never saw the farm before she wrote the book–it was all written from Almanzo’s greatly detailed memory. Astonishing.

    • Wendy Darling

      I know I couldn’t, hah. Which is kind of sad, we should all document these things better. But there was no doughnut jar in my house, so it’s sort of understandable. ;)