Profile about Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes in De Smet, South Dakota

by | Jul 17, 2018

Today we are excited to bring you an in-depth look at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes in De Smet, South Dakota. This is part of our on-going series highlighting popular historic locations and sites related to Little House on the Prairie. If you are in the area during the summer, you will want to make sure to see the annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant performances.

In-Depth Profile of the Little House on the Prairie Historic Site in De Smet

Details about the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes site

Founding and History of the Site:

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes was founded in 1957, which was the year Laura passed away.

For the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society of De Smet, South Dakota, bringing Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books to life is a labor of love. As the setting for five of Wilder’s books about prairie life, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years, the Memorial Society is dedicated to preserving her legacy.

Surveyors House, the first home of the Ingalls family in Dakota Territory.

Surveyors’ House, the first home of the Ingalls family in Dakota Territory. Photo © Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, De Smet, SD.

When Aubrey Sherwood, Alice Kirchmeier and Vera McCaskell formed the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in 1957, they wanted a way to honor their dear friend Laura Ingalls Wilder. They wanted to highlight the sites in De Smet that Laura mentions in her books. They had no real budget or specific plan, but they loved Laura’s books and De Smet.

The Memorial Society slowly began recognizing the buildings in town referenced in the Little House books, and they also began collecting Ingalls family belongings. By 1972, as funding, involvement and community support grew, the organization had acquired the Surveryors’ House and the “House that Pa built” as well as hundreds of original Ingalls artifacts.

Pantry: Inside the Surveyor’s House

Pantry: Inside the Surveyors’ House. Photo © Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, De Smet, SD.

The Memorial Society has added another irreplaceable building to the historical collection, when the first school Laura and her sister Carrie attended was purchased and restored to its original condition as a school.

The organization currently maintains more than 2,000 original artifacts of Laura and her family. A must-see for all Laura fans.

First School of De Smet. Attended by Laura and Carrie.

First School of De Smet. Attended by Laura and Carrie. Photo © Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, De Smet, SD.

Visitors travel from across the globe to the wind-swept prairies to walk the path of Laura Ingalls Wilder and to tour the historic homes. During the summer, guests from places as far away as New York, Japan and Australia will sign into the guest book.

What began over a cup of coffee as three friends’ desire to honor a local author has grown into an internationally recognized organization which preserves Wilder’s literary contribution and teaches new generations about the struggles and joys of pioneering life.

Restored school room that Laura Ingalls Wilder attended

A replica of the Brewster School, the first school Laura taught in. Photo © Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, De Smet, SD.

The Site is Best Known For:

  • Preserving the legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder and preserving and exhibiting original belongings of Laura and her family.
  • The original Surveyors’ House from By the Shores of Silver Lake.
  • The original First School of De Smet attended by Laura and Carrie in Laura’s books The Long Winter and Little Town on the Prairie.

Other Interesting Attractions in the Area:

The Society offers a self-guided tour map of over fifty sites Laura mentions in her Little House books. Included on the map is the De Smet cemetery where some of the family members are laid to rest, the original Loftus store, and the store site where the family spent the Long Winter.

Ingalls home that Pa built.

Ingalls home that Pa built in 1887. Photo © Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, De Smet, SD.

Special Events During the Year:

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant Society presents an outdoor theater production on the beautiful Dakota prairie in July. Each summer a Little House book is presented in an amphitheater overlooking the original cottonwoods that Pa planted on this land. The 2015 pageant performances were of By the Shores of Silver Lake.

Resources for Visitors and Tour Options:

The historical home tours of the Society offer a special look into the lives of Laura and her family. The Society offers tours of the archival room and research opportunities upon written request. The archival room contains over 2,000 original artifacts of the Ingalls family, including photographs, objects, documents and books. It also includes databases on Kingsbury County cemeteries, original land plats and the local newspapers from 1883 to the present.

Inside the Surveyer's House

The living room inside the home that Pa built in 1887. Original photographic portraits of Charles and Caroline Ingalls hang on the wall. Photo © Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, De Smet, SD

The Society tour guides are well-informed and enjoy personalizing the tour to fit the audience. Offerings include field trips, a Girl Scout patch and bus line groups:

Field trips: The Society offers field trips to school and home school groups. There are 12 options that you can mix and match based on your interests. Each session lasts 30 minutes. One of the most popular options is “Pa goes hunting.” This session starts with a 10-minute presentation about what Pa hunted and why he hunted. During the presentation, real animal pelts are shown and passed around. Then the real fun begins when each student casts a rubber animal track mold with plaster of Paris. Each student takes home his or her track at the end of the presentation.

Girl Scouts: The Society has developed a Girl Scout patch that scouts can earn by learning about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Requirements include reading Little House books, touring the Surveyors’ House and making and eating pioneer foods.

Bus Line Groups: The Society hosts bus lines and personalizes their tours to the audience and time allowed.

Memorial Site: One acre of the land of Pa'a homestead donated to the Society in 1957.

Memorial Site: One acre of the land of Pa’s homestead donated to the Society in 1957. Photo © Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, De Smet, SD.

Contact Information, Admission and Hours of Operation:

P.O. Box 426
105 Olivet Avenue
De Smet, SD 57231
Phone number: 800-880-3383

Admission: Adults $12.00, Children $6.00, Preschoolers Free

Hours of Operation: The museum is open year round but has seasonal hours of operation listed below. Check their website or Facebook page for the latest information.

  • January – April: Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • May: Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • June – August: Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm and Sunday from 11:00 am to 5:50 pm (extended hours on Pageant days)
  • September: Monday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
  • October – December: Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm

If you love Little House on the Prairie and Laura Ingalls Wilder you’ll want to be sure to subscribe to the newsletter for more in-depth profiles.

Rebecca was one of the driving forces in developing and launching the Little House on the Prairie® website. She is committed to preserving Laura Ingalls Wilder's legacy and meeting fans from around the world. For the past four years, she has worked in the education technology sector in both early learning and higher education, helping people access opportunities to learn and succeed. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and enjoys hiking and gardening.

24 Comments

  1. Lisa Cox

    Great books! I still read them.
    I’d like to visit DeSmet some day.
    I did *not* like the show.

    Reply
    • Roger Williams

      How could you not like the show?

      Reply
  2. Lora

    Love love the books, the show. Everything about Little House and Laura Ingals. Watched the TV series as a little girl… into my adulthood. Now I’m watching them again on dvd with my two little girls. Planning on visiting the grounds this summer, God willing and Covid allowing…

    Thank you so much for making all this information available to us.

    Reply
  3. Carrie Larson

    Little House was always a very favorite of mine in my growing up years and frankly, it still is!!! I really love to see the rooms in the houses Laura grew up in. The house in DeSmet , Mansfield, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa are all very interesting to see restored and in Laura’s growing up years as well. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE THESE SHOWS AND HER TRUE PIONEER GIRL BOOK, TOO!!!

    Reply
  4. Katia Salles de Santiago

    Sou brasileira e conheci as histórias de Laura através da tradução de seus livros. Uma casa na floresta, Uma casa na campina, Uma cidade na campina e o Pequeno fazendeiro. Infelizmente não tenho toda a coleção, mas sou apaixonada por essa escritora. I’m Brazilian and I got to know Laura’s stories through the translation of her books. A house in the forest, A house in the meadow, A town in the meadow and the Little farmer. Unfortunately I do not have the entire collection, but I am in love with this writer.

    Reply
  5. Carolyn Wenning

    VIsted sites in Missouri and South Dakota. I began reading the books when I was 10. The sites and stories are priceless. Laura captured experiences in writing that we can only imagine about now. A life well worth writing about and visiting.

    Reply
  6. Paula seibert

    Thank you for the great News about Laura Ingalls Wilder always love watching Little House on the Prairie can’t get enough of Laura Ingalls Wilder she was one of my favorite

    Reply
  7. Amy Hume

    Where approximately was the location of Mr. Anderson’s farm ( with the bushels of wheat ) in the Long Winter. Southeast of town?
    Has the location of the Brewster school been identified? I plan to visit De Smet this June and would like to visit other sites besides the main attractions in the LOTP tour.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  8. Sharon

    Loved watching Little House. Makes you want to go back to the pioneer days. Life was harder but simpler from what it is today.

    Reply
    • Roger Williams

      Sharon, I love watching little house also, I believe I would have loved living in that time as they did, yes harder but everybody knew everybody in their little towns and everybody help everybody, unlike today!!

      Reply
  9. Sharon

    Loved watching Little House. Makes you want to go back to the pioneer days. Life was harder but simpler from what it is today.

    Reply
  10. LuAnne

    I have always loved Little House! I watched it growing up and have collected many many items and various books as well as two complete sets of the series books. I have also visited De Smet several times traveling the complete circuit of the tour. I have also traced to other places they lived in south Dakota!

    Reply
  11. Johan Taljaard

    We can’t get enough of these people of LOTP We are reading the books after byble reading each evening and watch about 8 to 10 episodes every weekend currently. There is much we can learn from these people.

    Inspiring.

    We are from Lydenburg South Africa

    Reply
  12. Louise

    I have seen ALL episodes over the years many times and it is a joy each time to watch such a warm loving family struggling through life and coming out STILL with so much love and goodness as I hope it was with the real Ingalls family. Great series and its a treat to read about Laura and her family especially when life was so very hard then.

    Reply
  13. Paul

    My name is Paul and I grew up in Toronto, Canada with the Ingalls on TV. It was my favourite show and perhaps still is. It was a masterpiece in so many ways. Most importantly to me were the morals that it demonstrated revolving around the importance of family, appreciating the simple and important things in life, having respect to others and oneself, and hard work and determination. I have kids now, a four year old and a two year old, and I look forward to watching the LHOTP episodes with them. With the level of the quality of TV and cinema declining so much over the years, it is important that we hang on to some good examples.

    Reply
    • Marvin, Quinteros

      I agree with all you said, it sure teaches everyone values and better way of living in our world.

      Reply
  14. gijsbert

    I always get tears in my eyes when there is a story about this family on the tube,
    so much love and understanding.
    I wish those days where here now and not stories about war and disaster.
    greetings from gijsbert the netherlands

    Reply
  15. Jeanette McMaster.

    The pictures I see of the homestead, look very well, in the movie itself, their home
    was not as nice, rather they looked very poor.

    Reply
    • carol Davison

      I agree. I think that the feasts so lovingly described in the Farmer Boy Book demonstrate that. Pagination wouldn’t have kept moving if they were doing well.

      Reply
      • M. Kneeshaw

        I have read the books at least a half dozen times in my life – as a child over and over, then as a young adult, then to my own children and then to younger stepchildren. I too am a bit confused after looking at the photo of the parlor of “The House That Pa Built, 1887”. I was under the impression that the Ingalls family were not well off. The photo mentioned above shows what to me would have been a wealthy family (Like Almanzo’s in Farmer Boy). As I always assumed that the books were true to Laura’s life (more so than movie or TV), how is this possible?

        Reply
        • Lisa

          The house you are referring to was built much later . In fact Laura never lived there. By that time, the family had been settled in Desmet for quite some time and I imagine were doing better financially.
          Also, I believe it was built and added on to in later years, which increased its size. It is beautiful to see. Desmet is a wonderful town, well worth a visit for LIW fans.

          Reply
        • Meli

          I just visited this home, 2 days ago and my understanding is it was built the year after Laura married and she never lived there, but the others did. Charles built only 3 rooms and in later years, added on. It is a wonderful home!

          Reply
  16. kim novak

    Love the show, still watching it, got the whole series.

    Reply
  17. Mary Pierce

    When I was younger, I had received 2 tall dolls and I named them: Laura and Mary. I enjoy the early years of Little House on the Prairie.

    Reply

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