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The Wilder Pilgrimage, Part 3: Spring Valley

October 10th, 2011 (09:12 pm)


After my visit to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Burr Oak, Iowa, (described in my posts of October 8 and 9) I decided to cross the nearby state line in search of another site connected with Laura's life, the museum at Spring Valley Minnesota, about 45 minutes away.

If you've read Laura's final book, The First Four Years, you probably remember that the early years of her marriage to Almanzo Wilder were heartbreaking. Their newborn son died, the crops failed, and both Laura and Almanzo contracted diptheria, resulting in permanent damage to Almanzo's feet. As if all that wasn't enough to devastate the young family, their house burned to the ground. Writing her books years later, Laura never had time to finish more than a sketchy rough draft of the last one, and it is that draft that was published as The First Four Years. If she'd lived long enough to complete the manuscript, she might have told of the period from May 1890 to October 1891, when the couple and their small daughter Rose moved to Minnesota to recuperate at the farm of Almanzo's parents.

The third book in Laura's series, Farmer Boy, is set at Almanzo's boyhood home, a prosperous family farm near Malone, New York. Years after the close of the book, when Almanzo was in his teens, his family moved to a new farm in Spring Valley, Minnesota, part of which had originally belonged to Mrs. Wilder's brother, George Day. Interestingly, Almanzo lived in Spring Valley at the same time that 9-year-old Laura was waiting tables and making beds so close by in Burr Oak, though the families had not yet met. Many readers don't realize that Almanzo's family included a brother and sister who do not appear in Farmer Boy. The oldest Wilder child, Almanzo's sister Laura, was probably omitted so as not to confuse readers with two Lauras in the series. Almanzo also had a younger brother named Perley. The youngest of the Wilder children, Perley was not yet born during the time recounted in the book.

After the disastrous first four years of Laura and Almanzo's marriage, the young couple traveled by covered wagon to live with his family on their Minnesota farm. Unfortunately, the farm is now private property whose owners keep it closed to tourists. But the town of Spring Valley wanted to celebrate its connection to the beloved author and her husband's family. So the church the Wilders attended there has become the focal point for fans of Laura's "Little House" books, with a historical marker outside and a small museum inside. Here is an exterior view of the church, and the historical marker: