I gave myself a treat for Labor Day weekend. Looking at the COVID infection rates, I saw that northern New York State was on par with what we’ve seen where I live, so I decided I could venture there safely. There was someplace that I have wanted to see for a long time. Since I was a little girl, I loved the Little House on the Prairie books. The second book Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote was Farmer Boy, based on the early life of her husband, Almanzo Wilder, in Malone, NY.
In actuality, the location is not in Malone. It’s in Burke, NY. I had to travel about 3 miles outside of Malone down several back roads to find the location. It wasn’t difficult and there was ample parking.
I had arrived about 45 minutes early for my 11:30 AM tour that I booked online. It cost $25 for one person. Right now, due to COVID, they are only doing private tours. It’s easy enough to book on their website. The price per person goes down, depending on how many people there are in the group, up to 6.
The visitor’s center has a store and a museum. I wandered through the museum, taking it all in. It was interesting to see the various newsclippings about the Wilder family. Many of the artifacts in the museum date to that era, but are not original to the farm.
My tour started in the house itself. In the book, Laura only discusses four children in the family. In actuality, there were 3 boys and 3 girls, with a 25 year spread in ages. Can you imagine raising six children in a house this size? The upstairs was where the children had their two bedrooms – one for boys and one for girls – but that was closed off due to having to sanitize the house in between tours. Instead, I saw a video for that part of the tour.
I think I shocked the tour guide when we were talking about the age difference between the oldest girl, Laura, and the youngest child, Perley, and I mentioned the fact that it could have been possible he was actually one of the daughters’ child and it was just hidden and presented as another sibling. Things like that did happen in those days (contrary to popular belief) and that would have just been the way it was if mother and father said that and the family would have gone along with it. Almanzo’s mother was born in 1821, so she would have been 48 when Perley was born. Not unheard of, of course, but it makes one wonder.
Back to the tour….
We entered into the kitchen, but the family would have come into the mud room to keep the kitchen clean. The mud room would have also been where some of the wood supply was stored inside the home. The pantry was on the other side of the home. The Wilders had indoor plumbing of a sort with a well right in the pantry. In the picture you can see a barrel with a metal lid on it. That’s where the well was. When the property was purchased for the purpose of restoring it to when Almanzo lived there and dedicating it to being a museum, the well was filled in, but there are pictures of it.
The stove is not original to the home. It was actually more modern than the kind the Wilders would have had (see the temperature gauge on the front of it).
I was very excited to see the infamous parlor. If you’ve read Farmer Boy, you know what I mean. Again, nothing in the room was original to the house. It was a nice room, though. The tour guide explained that for a long time, they wondered whether the infamous parlor incident was just something added to make for good reading. When they went to renovate the house, they peeled off 8 layers of wallpaper and between that yellow chair and the picture, they found a black spot. Seems he really did throw that blacking brush at his sister!
These are the bedrooms I could see. The blue one was a guest room, but most often used for a nursery. The other is the master bedroom. One of the few things that actually belonged to the Wilders is that blue blanket. Almanzo’s mother made it on her loom. Pretty incredible that it’s 150+ years old!
The barns are not original to the property. They actually burned down twice due to lightning (so much for not striking the same place twice). When Laura was writing Farmer Boy, Almanzo sketched the layout of the property from memory, and included measurements. These sketches can be seen in the museum. When the time came to rebuild the barn, the original foundations were found and Almanzo’s sketches were just a foot off. That’s some memory considering how much time had gone by since he’d been there and he’d had a stroke.
There was a separate well at the barns for the animals. There were also a variety of tools locate there, again, not original to the property. It was really something to see where the sheep were sheared, where the grain was threshed, and what tools they had to work with. There was a cast-iron shovel hanging on the wall that had to be very heavy in its own right, never mind using it to shovel grain.
This is the path across the street to the Trout River. The Wilders owned 85 acres to the Trout River and beyond. This is the spot where the sheep were bathed before shearing. One of the tour guides is a geocacher, and there are actually two geocaches on the property. I found both of them.
I went back into Malone to take this picture of the fairgrounds where Almanzo showed his oxen and pumpkin. It’s not a very far drive, but imagining them having to take the drive with a horse and buggy every time they needed supplies or to trade, Looking at the farm’s financial reports, mother made a lot of money from selling butter she made on the farm. That’s something that would have to be brought to town on a regular basis.
One question I asked was why would they have moved to Minnesota, if they were doing so well on the farm here? The answer was a combination of circumstances and economics. Almanzo’s uncle (his mother’s brother) had a farm in Minnesota and became ill. Mother and father traveled out there to help him out while their children ran the farm in New York. The children weren’t quite children at that time, but the farm in New York wasn’t producing crops like it once had. When the uncle passed away, Mother and Father took over the farm and sent word to the children to sell the farm in New York and come west. His father had bought the farm for $500 in 1840 and sold it 30 years later for $5,000. They had a very good return on their investment.
I made some purchases in the store. They have all the books there that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote and many more. There are all kinds of trinkets and souvenirs. There is also a one-room schoolhouse on the property, although it’s not the one Almanzo attended. It had started to rain at that point and I’d really seen enough of those, so I said we didn’t need to see it.
All in all, this lived up to my expectations. I’ve been to Laura and Almanzo’s home in Mansfield, Missouri about 15 years ago, but this was my first location that Laura actually wrote about. It’s about a 5 hour drive for me, and I’d love to go again after COVID so I can see the upstairs.
Website for information: https://almanzowilderfarm.com/