Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum
Here am I on the porch of Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Mo. – the home where author Laura Ingalls Wilder – lived from age 27 until her death at age 90. It is here on this farm that she wrote by hand the Little House on the Prairie Books between 1932 and 1943.
Following the bank meeting I was heading to one of my favorite Midwest Americana experiences; Lambert’s Café – Home of the Throwed Roll – honestly they throw your hot-out-of-the-oven-roll at you – of course, I had my meal take out this time so the rolls and molasses came in a bag – but I can remember the days of jumping out of my seat to catch my roll before it sailed over my head to someone at a nearby table. No matter what entrée you order, your meal at Lambert’s comes with what they call ‘Passed Sides’ – all you can eat servings of Fried Okra, Black Eyed Peas, Fried Potatoes & Onions, Macaroni & Tomatoes, Apple Butter, Sorghum Molasses and hot rolls. So much more amusing dining in but the food was just as tasty in my RV.
It is a sunny, bright spring day in the Missouri Ozarks and I was yearning to be out in the fresh air, stretch my legs and walk off lunch when The Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum sign on the highway caught my attention – I hadn’t read the books but I did watch the TV series with Michael Landon and always liked Laura, she was a tom-boy not a goody two shoes – I remember she took on that mean Nellie Olsen and she was brave, she lived through difficult times and she loved her Pa – he was the great father, with all the music and stories – everyone wants but not everyone has. I knew Little House on the Prairie was autobiographical so I thought I knew Laura Ingles Wilder. I did not…
In honor of Women’s History Month I thought you might be interested in learning what I discovered about one of the most significant children’s authors in American history. Let’s being with this stunning fact – Mrs. Wilder was 65 years old when she began writing the Little House on the Prairie Books. She was related to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – whom she did not like. She refused to say “obey” in her wedding vows – “I cannot make a promise that I will not keep, even if I tried. He is said to have replied; “ I’d never expect you to”. Wilder had a historic highway that runs across Minnesota and South Dakota and a crater on Venus named after her. The “Little House” series has become so iconic over the years that it has prompted several spin-off novels, musicals, plays, a Japanese anime series, parades, fashion shows, festivals. Reruns of the iconic “Little House on the Prairie” that first appeared in the ’70s and ’80s are still aired in over 30 countries today. In December 2020, Paramount Television announced a one-hour dramatic reboot of that TV series. In addition to this site in Mansfield, there are Laura Ingalls Wilder museums in De Smet, SD, Walnut Grove and Spring Valley, MN, Pepin, WI and Burr Oak, Iowa. In 2018, the American Library Association removed her name from Laura Ingalls Wilder Lifetime Achievement Award – now ‘The Children’s Literature Legacy Award” because of the series’ racist and dehumanizing portrayals of Native and Black Americans — a reflection of attitudes shared among many white settlers during the time the books were written.
Arriving at the historic farm, the first sight you see is Laura’s and Almanzo’s beloved farmhouse. It remains as it was in 1957 and stands as an official project of the Save America’s Treasures National Trust for Historical Preservation. Laura, Almanzo and daughter, Rose, arrived in Mansfield from South Dakota, August 30, 1894. They purchased a forty-acre farm, which had a one-room log cabin near the spring and ravine. It took 17 years from the time they moved in to when the home was finished in 1913. The home was always a central theme to Laura’s life. The farmhouse held a very special place in both Laura’s and Almanzo’s hearts as they chose to live the last of their days here. Touring the home you see her study and writing desk, as well as the many treasures that remain exactly how Laura left them. A highlight of the museum is Pa’s dear old fiddle, which sits in a glass case near the entrance – it was made in Germany in 1850, and Charles played it until he died in 1902. Before getting back on the road I visited the town cemetery to pay my respects at the graves of Laura, her husband Almanzo, and their daughter Rose.
One of the best things about travel is that out on the road you often find yourself learning something about yourself, as the history you discover lets you see the Big Picture. The more roads I travel, the more I understand that the only thing that stays the same is Change!
Wish you were here,
Happy St Patty’s Day!
This week I am at the Lake Charles State Park RV Campground in Arkansas – not a great destination to write home about.
But, this is my favorite place to stay when in Arkansas for the monthly bank board meeting and as this month is also the annual shareholders meeting, I am here longer than usual. I have my RV parked right on the edge of the lake and the park is almost deserted so it is quiet, peaceful and beautiful here.
With this down time I thought it would be good opportunity to take stock of where we are. It has been far longer than we could have imagined when I cancelled our St Patrick’s Day Trip Presentation at the Vets Building, parked the bus and closed our office doors a year ago this week. I have been hearing from many of you that you have been fully vaccinated and are anxious to be back on the bus. I know that I am more than ready as well, but the truth is that is not yet possible to resume travel and we still have no definite date. I am optimistic that it will be safe for us to be back on the bus by the fall and am working hard to reschedule postponed trips for the fall and create new trips for winter and spring. I hope that those who still have reservations for a postponed trip will hang in there until I have the new dates but I stand ready to refund all payments we are holding on these trips upon request.
I am waiting for response from hotels and vendors for re-scheduling the California Missions trip September, Ashland Theater September, Catalina Island the third week of October, Yosemite and Death Valley spring of 2022 and working on a Mission Inn Christmas and Rose Parade New Year’s. When I have confirmed dates, you will be the first to know.
This pandemic has been devastating for the bus tour industry, we have been left out of the government relief grants and loan programs to help keep us afloat. The American Bus Association reported this month that over 800 small tour operators have permanently closed and many more will close before we are able to get back on the road.
I have done everything possible to keep Daytripping afloat and at the ready to begin again at a moment’s notice when we are assured it is safe. Through this year with absolutely no income I am feeling fortunate to have been able to hang on.
For now, all tours are on still hold and the office remains closed for in-person business. I am monitoring voice mail and will return calls or can be reached on my cell at 707 217 0737.
I am so grateful that thanks to your confidence and support Daytripping is still standing. I cannot express my appreciation.
Some places call you back and for me Apalachicola, Fl is one of those places. I have visited briefly before but am happy to visit again and take this place of longleaf and slash pines, stately antebellum homes and sky blue waterways dotted with shrimping boats at its own pace – slowly.
It is spring on the Forgotten Coast and the Shorebirds are everywhere. I took this picture of a striking black and white bird with a flashy red beak that the Florida Audubon Society app identified as an American Oystercatcher.
I want to say that I am becoming casual about the Blue Angels flying over head because I have seem so many of them while here in the Appalachacola/Pensacola area but, I stop in my tracks each and every time they take over the sky and gape – it will always be an awesome spectacle. I am here putting the final touches on a trip for spring 2022 but the added bonus of the Blue Angels as well as Black Hawk Helicopters and B-2 Bomber pilots practicing maneuvers is such a huge treat.
Apalachicola sits on water that looks exactly like the shrimping scenes from Forrest Gump. It is a taste of “Old Florida” with tree lined streets, coastal cottages, regal homes of past sea captains, a quaint downtown where almost every building is historic and weather- worn shrimp boats … to a boy from California it looks like a ‘stage set’. This quaint southern town’s allure is it’s authenticity, strong sense of place, vibrant history and rich maritime culture. I find in this time when everything changes in the blink of an eye a place that has retained it’s original flavor extremely comforting. With a deep-porched Gibson Inn that feels like the coolest spot to stay on the Panhandle, world class seafood restaurants and brewpubs I want to visit this tiny city again and again.
Traveling by airboat for a ride on the Apalachicola River, I feel like a lucky explorer discovering the backwater wilderness of ancient Florida – skimming across untouched waters at speeds up to 40mph. I search for wildlife native to the Estuarine Reserve – alligators, dolphins, birds, turtles, manatees, and fish, darting alongside the boat as the boat flies across the water – following my ride I learned that it is also offered at night – next time.
Just west of Apalachicola are the remarkable wild beaches of Cape San Blas and the St Joseph Peninsula, a spit of land that arcs out from the mainland and parallels the coast for miles of windswept high dunes and untamed beaches. I am in paradise.
Each spring, Bellingrath Gardens and Grand Estate Home of Walter and Bessie Bellingrath blooms with more than 250,000 vibrant azaleas in an explosion of color throughout the 65-acre garden and gives you a peek into the lifestyle of successful the Coca Cola bottler and businessman. The annual Azalea Bloom Out goes back to Bellingrath’s earliest beginnings in 1919, when Walter purchased a rustic fishing camp on Fowl River. His wife, Bessie, who loved gardening, wanted to beautify the property and relied on old-growth azaleas as a starting point. Ever since, Bellingrath Gardens has been synonymous with the Gulf Coast’s beautiful azalea season. My stroll around Mirror Lake was epic – the still water reflects pink, lavender, red and white azalea blossoms, giving a double image of the season. In addition to the azaleas I spotted tulips, Easter lilies, hydrangeas, pansies and dozens more that I can’t begin to identify for you – but they were stunning. I wish it was possible for you to enjoy the fragrance. Unfortunately, I missed the Azalea Trail Maids – a tradition dating back to 1929 – each year high school senior girls are selected to represent the finest in old-school southern charm. While dressed in the custom-made fifty pound antebellum dress and bonnet their duty is to smile, wave, pose to have their picture taken but never to speak. These ladies marched in President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration parade. They appeared at Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, Disney’s Easter Parade, and the Rose Bowl Parade.
This long and winding road trip has taken me down familiar roads and new roads. As we roll into March, I am hoping ‘Spring has Sprung’ at home, and wishing we were together on the bus for Bill Montgomery’s Wildflower Drive. Remember to Spring ahead for Daylight Savings this weekend.
Many of you, no doubt, remember all the times you asked me to stop at every silly roadside attraction and I never would… I apologize, and now see a certain charm in this random nonsense – possibly a sign that I am slowly becoming my parents – but I prefer to think it is because I am not on such a tight schedule and can pull over to take a gander at these fun works of ‘art’ without worrying about getting to the next stop on time. And there are some real gems – so this is only my first installment of these nostalgic, gaudy and yes, sometimes run-down paragons of off-road wonder you have to see. Having said that, I must tell you I felt a little silly taking these pictures but as it is a long-standing American tradition and I am your envoy, I did this for you – with love.
Bealeton, VA: Giant Roller Skate
Definitely a wonder of the modern world a giant 10-foot tall roller skate made entirely of wood and plaster graces the side of Highway 17 . The skate first appeared during the skating craze in the 1980s. And while the actual skating rink, Rollerworks Family Skating Center closed – the skate remains – awesome as ever! Bealeton is also home to one of the last barnstorming air shows in the US – but more about that later.
Waynesboro, VA: Cartoon Roadrunner
So cool, this 10-foot-tall version of the classic cartoon character, standing on a tree stump, with its familiar blue and purple colors and cheerful grin is my favorite. The students of Berkeley Glenn Elementary School adopted the cartoon Roadrunner as its mascot and a former alumni fiberglass artist, Mark Cline, created this masterpiece. I am told when the tarp was pulled from the statue on November 4, 2018, the crowd spontaneously shouted, “Beep Beep!”
Atlanta IL Hot Dog Man
Standing 19 feet tall and clutching a giant hot dog, this Paul Bunyon statue, not “bunyan” purposely spelled with an “o”, to avoid any copyright issues, was created in 1966 as an eye-grabbing advertisement for Bunyon’s Hot Dog stand. The Hot Dog Man was relocated here from it’s original location in Cicero, IL and I think he found a great home. This little town is a treasure, with a Route 66 Museum, a 1950’s diner and terrific murals. On our next Route 66 tour we will make a point to see as many of these “lumberman” statues as possible.
Manitowoc, WI: Bernice the Cow
Tan and white and larger than life. A giant Guernsey cow made of fiberglass, “Bernice,” the dutiful mascot of the Cedar Crest Ice Cream Parlor has been here since the 1960s.
Manistique, WI: Paul Bunyan
The axe swinging lumberjack legend of folklore welcomes visitors to this historic lumber town, the “Home of Paul Bunyan.” Maybe 15 feet tall the mountain man has watched over the community for years and in this time of Covid 19 Pandemic, Paul has donned a mask to encourage the community to stay safe. Manistique is also the site of the famous “Siphon Bridge.” Built in 1919, the 300-ft. span used a novel engineering approach that didn’t catch on. It’s the only bridge in the world below the level of the water that surrounds it.
Collinsville, IL: Worlds Largest Ketchup Bottle
I know you will be sad to hear this – the bottle isn’t actually filled with ketchup – but if it were it would contain the equivalent of 640,000 bottles of Brooks Old Original Catsup. Built in 1949 as a water tower for Brooks Catsup, the 70ft-tall tower is sitting on a 100ft platform along Highway 159. At one point this landmark was up for sale and even scheduled for demolition. But, through the efforts of a local group the bottle has been restored to its original appearance and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
They have asked me to tell you that they are standing by waiting to meet you when we can travel again.
Elkmont Ghost Town
Tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee, is a once affluent mountain retreat that time forgot. Now just an eerie ghost town – in the early 1900’s Elkmont was the premier summer destination for the upper echelons of Knoxville society, bustling with hand-crafted log cabins and plush social clubs – the community even boasted a Millionaires’ Row.
What brought me here wasn’t just the intriguing history of the town and its people but the role they played in the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In 1901 Colonel Wilson B. Townsend, a Pennsylvania entrepreneur, purchased 86,000 acres of land along Little River and established the Little River Lumber Company. As the valley was slowly stripped of its valuable timber, Townsend began to advertise the area as a mountain getaway. In 1909, Little River Railroad began offering the “Elkmont Special” — a non-stop train service from Knoxville to Elkmont. Day-trippers paid $1.95 to ride in open observation cars attached to the back of a logging train to escape the stifling heat of Knoxville and while away the dog days of summer in the crisp mountain air – soon an observation car was added on the logging train and later passenger coaches. In 1910 the Little River Lumber Company sold land to the Appalachian Club – a private social club of Knoxville businessmen who built a hotel and clubhouse to be used as a gathering place for members and glittering parties. The Appalachian Club sold plots of land which Knoxville’s wealthiest residents quickly snapped up to build luxury summer cabins. The rustic cottages became known as Society Hill.
But, membership in the Club was expensive so in 1912, Charles B Carter built the Wonderland Hotel (cool name, don’t you think) only two miles from the Appalachian Club. The lodge was decked out in rustic décor featuring large stone and brick fireplaces, hardwood flooring and country-style furniture, rocking chairs lined the porch and stone steps led from the station to the hotel. Rocks from the Little River were cemented at the top of the steps, spelling out ‘Wonderland’. The steps can still be seen today.
These were golden years filled with dancing to live three piece orchestra’s, the river was dammed for swimming, and, reportedly, taffy pulls were such a popular activity that prizes were awarded for the whitest taffy – cigars for men and sewing baskets for the women. Parties would end with a boisterous round of singing, “Elkmont Will Shine” – Elkmont will shine tonight, Elkmont will shine!
By 1926, they ceased logging entirely and Elkmont began to fade away. Around that same time, William P Davis, a cottage owner at Elkmont, visited Yellowstone and wanted to have a national park in Smoky Mountains. He teamed up with Colonel David Chapman, a founder of the Appalachian Club. The Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association was established by the Knoxville Automobile Club and the chamber of commerce. Federal and state governments were lobbied and Chapman hosted legislators at Elkmont to sell them on the park. The plan worked like a charm and the US government agreed to establish the national park, if Tennessee and North Carolina purchased the land. The association set to work acquiring land to donate for the park. In 1927, the LRLC sold 76,507 acres for the park. More land was needed, but there were people living on it and while many people were forced to leave their land when they sold to the park, residents in Elkmont itself and the clubs were able to stay, negotiating lifetime leases. By 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park plan became official. The Civilian Conservation Corps moved into Elkmont, now a shadow of its former self. The New Deal organization worked to develop infrastructure and facilities in the new park. The CCC camp closed in 1936. President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on September 2, 1940, “for the permanent enjoyment of the people.”
Relics of this long-past era and many of the historic cottages are waiting to be brought back to life by the National Park Service. To date a handful of cabins have been fully restored, lovingly preserved and are open for tours. As the centerpiece of the Elkmont Historic District, the Appalachian Clubhouse has been rehabilitated with the original charm of exposed wooden beams and massive stone fireplaces. Wonderland Hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places but unfortunately the site completely burned down in 2016. There is hope on the horizon with a goal for all cabins to be restored by 2025. Even in it’s current state it is easy to see why people have always been drawn here.
After all of the miles I’ve driven through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I am grateful to the people of Elkmont, and their vision to leave us a park full of memories and spirits. When you come, make sure to go outside early in the morning to catch the smoky haze that gives these mountains their magical quality and the smokies their name. I’m grateful they are here.
Fun Fact: Each and every year in the Smoky Mountains, for a magical few nights in June, is an incredible natural phenomenon, known as “synchronous fireflies”. This breathtaking show put on by nature resembles a psychedelic combination of stars falling and fireworks exploding. Tens-of-thousands of lightening bugs gather in swarms and flash in harmony as the entire forest alternates between light and darkness. Right here, in Elkmont, is the largest population of synchronous fireflies in the Western Hemisphere.