Yet another Little House post....
The tour of sites in De Smet began in the surveyor's house, which was the original building in town. Laura and her family lived there during the winter of 1879-80, which gained them the title of the first town residents when it was officially begun in early spring of '80. In the books, Laura was so impressed at the house, how big it was and how well made and stocked. It's amazing how spoiled we are in this century, how much we have and how much we think we need. This little house would confound us in it's unpretentiousness, and it's total lack of space and modern conveniences, but Laura and her family felt they were living royally.
As with most tours, there were utterly annoying people, those who wouldn't control their children, and those who asked stupid questions and then there was the 15 year old guide who was ill informed about many things. I say this from the perspective of a fanatic, so I've cut her some slack in my overall review. Her name was Kristin, and she was dressed as Laura and she later informed me she was to play Laura that night in the local play based on the Ingalls lives in town. So....I had a tour directed by a 15 year old Laura Ingalls.
There were several artifacts that belonged to the family, but over all, most things had been donated by locals. The place was well done and it was easy to imagine it during the time of the pioneers. We weren't allowed to go upstairs, the reason being the stairs were too steep and narrow. There were many of us on the tour who wanted to risk it, but to no avail. They had decorated the loft area as it would have been when the girls shared it, and had placed a mirror so the people below could see it. Very cute space and any little girl would have felt as though they were in a miniature doll house. Ma and Pa's room was just big enough for a double bed with a trundle below. Pa must have had to take a running leap every night and vaulted over Ma in order to get into bed. Could have been fun!
The surveyor's room was on the left side of the house and it contained the equipment necessary to lay out the railroad lines. The curators had marked out with blue painter'tape an 8X10 square on the floor and told us that most settler's shanties were that size and a whole family would have to share that space. When presented like that, I could understand why Laura would have thought the house so big.
Behind the surveyor's house was a small shanty school, moved to the site for preservation, and next to that was the original 1 room school that Laura and Carrie attended. This was super cool because it had been lived in for 100 years of so as a home and they had just bought, moved it to the site and it was only opened for viewing 2 weeks ago! It is a work in progress, but if you're like me, you like to see the layers of life, the stuff found in the walls, and the digging into what is at the bottom of the layers. They want to get it back to it's original state, but I think it's quite interesting like it is. Nowadays, we have white boards, in my youth we had chalkboards, but apparently in Laura's day and age, they just painted large rectangles on the wall black and that served as the blackboard. De Smet's school had blackboards on three sides...pretty advanced.
From there, on to Ma and Pa's house on 3rd street. Pa and Ma had only lived on the claim outside of town for 7 years when they moved into town permanently. Pa was getting a liitle older and his heart was not in great shape. Back in those days, people didn't have surgery, they just had to take it a litte easier. For Pa, that meant no more farming. They sold the farm and Pa build a four room house in town. It had one bedroom downstairs and that was for Mary. Other than that it had a front parlor/dining room, kitchen and an uptstairs room for sleeping. They moved in on Christmas Eve 1887 and Pa and Ma lived there until thier deaths. 1888 or so, Pa added more rooms on until it was a 7 room house, three bedrooms upstairs, two down, a formal parlor, dining area and kitchen. The absolutely cool thing about the house is that it is 95% original materials, meaning that the doorknobs, windows, siding, etc, is what Pa put there so many years ago.
The decorating left a little to be desired, but then again, it was the Victorian era and people liked crazy wallpaper, but true to Ma's character, the beds had quilts, the kerosene lamp stood on the table and rag rugs decorated the floor. The kitchen had the original cabinetry that Pa built and three generations of dishes sat on the shelves, Rose's, Laura's and Ma's. I liked Laura's and Ma's best. Rose's were 1950s avacado green...not so nice for me.
Upstairs, Carrie and Grace had their own rooms and there were items in them from each girl. Carrie's had a horse hair coat, some jewelry and books, and Grace's had a very elaborate diary (looking like King Henry VIII would have owned it!) and some dishware.
As much as I would have liked to poke around, and I could have poked around for days in that little house, I had to get back and pick up my boys. Checkout of the hotel was 11am and that was my cutoff time. I had managed to squeeze in a cemetery tour, a countryside tour, surveyor's house and Ma/Pa's house in 3.5 hours. Pretty good I thought. The day wasn't over though because a visit to the old homestead site was planned and later on a wade in Plum Creek!
Oh...the ladies that had come the night before and hadn't made it in time, they spent the night as I had recommended and they were on the tour with me! Margaret and Shelly from St. Peter, Minnesota were such nice companions, seeing how my male cohorts were not very interested. So, thanks a bunch Shelly and Margaret!