Detour: Mansfield and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum
While the good food and warm Munger Moss hospitality is more than reason enough to visit Lebanon, the town also marks the turnoff for a trip to visit another American institution, the Ozark Mountain homestead where author Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the famous Little House books. Though it’s an hour detour south via Hwy-5, or 45 miles due east of Springfield via US-60, Wilder’s Rocky Ridge Farm has been preserved as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum (3068 Hwy. A, 877/924-7126, daily Mar. 1-Nov. 15, $10), on a hill two miles southeast of the town of Mansfield. Unlike the many reconstructed Little House sites elsewhere, this museum has a direct and intimate connection with the woman who, for generations of readers, brought the American frontier to life. Born in 1867, Wilder grew up with the country, her iconic “little house” moving ever westwards from the “big woods” of Wisconsin on to the “prairie” of Kansas and South Dakota. Wilder moved to the Ozarks in 1894 and worked to establish a successful apple and dairy farm. It was not until the economic downturns of the 1930s, when Wilder was in her 60s, that she began publishing her books, which have since sold millions (some of the royalties go to support the Mansfield library, where there is also a small museum). The home the Wilders lived in most of their adult lives forms the heart of the museum. They are buried in the town cemetery, alongside their daughter Rose, who urged on (and some say collaborated on) Laura’s autobiographical stories.