My First Homesite

This week, at long last, I’ll visit Pepin for the first time.

Do you remember your fist homesite visit? I do. It was Independence. Seems logical, since I live in Kansas. But I’m on the opposite corner of the state. Worse, there’s no straight highway that runs from here to there–just a lot of twists and turns. Distance decreed that it made more sense to combine the visit with another trip, so when I flew home to Boston from Kansas City, I tacked on an Independence trip to make a roundabout drive home.

On the way home from the airport — normally a hulking seven-hour drive — I detoured south. I checked the hours of the Independence site in advance, since I knew I’d be arriving on a Sunday. All clear. As I wound my way south that June morning, my anticipation grew more and more taut. I followed the signs toward Independence. One sign made me almost stop short, a small rectangular green one on a bridge.

Verdigris River.

Every part of my skin that faced downward or touched the seat–the bottoms of my feet up to my shoulders–tingled with electricity. I was driving over the Verdigris! I briefly contemplated pulling over and making my way down to the water’s edge, but even as I did so the car continued to pull me forward into downtown Independence. Maybe later, I’d be back.

On Route 160, which ran right through Independence, I followed the signs through town and out the west side, turning south onto Route 75. Each new sign that dictated a right or left turn spurred my anticipation. I was out in the country now — no hotels, no gas stations, no Wal-Marts. Just hill after rolling hill of prairie. Truthfully the area wasn’t THAT hilly, but after a year of living on land as flat as the floor beneath my feet, even small hills felt sinfully luxurious in my field of vision. On each side of the road open pastures, alive with June wildness, backed up against rows of trees. Black-eyed susans — or what I decided were black-eyed susans — and other wildflowers I couldn’t name dotted the golden grass that whispered in the breeze. I drove more and more slowly, stretching out this introduction to Little House on the Prairie. The clear day revealed a cerulean sky so brilliant it infused the scene with the aura of omniscience. The Mona Lisa of skies.

I made the last turn and saw the cabin, set back about 50 feet from the rail fence that lined the road. I pulled onto the shoulder and a sign on the gate caught my eye. A hand-lettered sign.

“Closed for Father’s Day,” it said.

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6 Responses to My First Homesite

  1. Dakotagirl says:

    My first home site was Mansfield. I felt like you Sandra as I drove along Highway 60 West looking for the first mileage sign that mentioned Mansfield.

    I drove out to the farmhouse and just stood there and looked at it in awe. I had arrived to late to tour that afternoon, but I was back early the next morning.

    I loved the museum, but was very disappointed in the tour guide. The guides today are much friendlier than they were in 1997 when I took this trip. I foolishly thought that everyone that worked at the museum loved Laura as much as I did and would welcome me warmly. It didn’t take long to dispel that notion. As we finished the tour of the farmhouse, one of the men on the tour was going to open the front door so we could leave. Our guide shouted “Don’t touch that door!” It was my own little “closed for father’s day” sign

  2. Amy says:

    I took my first homesite trip the week I turned 18. A friend of mine and I packed up some camping supplies and took off for our first real “adult” road trip–to all the LH sites that we knew about in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

    We got lost looking for Pepin, because we chose to take the back roads out of Chippewa Falls, Wis., out toward the Mississippi. The map we had labeled the freeway “County Road CC”, when it had recently been re-signed as Hwy 180. Though Pepin is only about an hour and a half from Chippewa, as the crow flies, it took us three hours to find the cabin at Pepin.

    And then, I was in awe.

    Sandra, I’ll leave you to your own first experience, so I won’t share more right now, but it was a first that I’ll never forget. We went into town, to the museum (great stop!), and drank up LIW. We camped that night in Stockholm, Wis., and crossed the next day into Minnesota. The car started making interesting grinding noises the minute we reached Walnut Grove, so we only took the time to visit the museum. To this day, I’ve not gone out to Plum Creek.

    (In fact, when I revisited Walnut Grove in 2005, everything downtown was under construction and getting around was a real chore, so we skipped Plum Creek and went straight to De Smet.)

    I still haven’t gotten to go to Mansfield–severe flooding kept us from reaching it the one weekend we’d scheduled to go–but I could tell you how to find Charlotte Holbrook’s grave in Rome, Wis. And the wonderful ladies at Burr Oak opened the museum up just for me the one time I drove through there. They’d been closed for cleaning, but took pity on me.

    Have fun, Sandra!

  3. Thanks for sharing, ladies! I love how you both used the word “awe.” It fits, doesn’t it?

    Amy, I’m envious of your trip — so long ago and with a friend your age who shared your fandom. Did you get flooded out of Mansfield AND Independence? Oh wait … was that the same trip?

  4. Amy says:

    We planned to go to Mansfield and Independence the same weekend, and got flooded out. In fact, it was pretty scary. We hadn’t been paying attention to the weather and news reports, and blithely left early on a Saturday morning for Independence. As we got to floodplain, the DOT folks stopped our car and told us we couldn’t go any further south, so Independence was out. They diverted us down a back road to get into MIssouri, which we took, thinking we could still salvage part of the trip and get to Mansfield.

    The back road they sent us down was low, and we hadn’t gone two miles before we saw water coming up to the sides of the road, right up the blacktop. It was eerily still, and we drove another two miles before I saw the sign for the Verdigris River. The water had begun to move, and we saw, as we drove further on, that it was rushing out from underneath the road to the other side of it through huge storm drains. We crept on, easing onto a bridge over the river and across before coming to rest behind a line of cars. As we looked forward, I stuck my head out the side window to see what was holding us up.

    The railroad tracks crossing the road in front of us were rushing water. Two cars were stuck, and it looked for all the world like they’d be washed down the Verdigris any second.

    I looked at Matt. He looked at me. And he swung the car around in a careful Y turn to lead us back out to the freeway where the DOT officials had diverted us.

    We stopped there, and told them about the line of cars and water rushing over the road. They seemed puzzled. Apparently, there were flagmen there to help guide people through that water.

    Wasn’t worth it to me. But boy, did I get a perverse thrill out of knowing the power of the Verdigris river still wreaked havoc more than a hundred years after Laura encountered it!

  5. Sarah Sue says:

    My first homesite was Burr Oak. I was under a fearful curse. My photo of the Masters Hotel roof was one big light spot, a little redder than a Howards Johnson’s roof. So we made another trip up before I put my first 4H presentation together just to get another photo of the hotel and the photos of the outside of the hotel didn’t come out at all. It wasn’t until my 4th trip there that I got a decent shot of the outside.

    Also for my 15th birthday, I got a trip down to Mansfield with the family. My mother didn’t check if it was open so 9 hours down, 9 hours back and this was back when it was closed on Sundays. Learned the hard way to call ahead.

  6. Rebecca says:

    Sounds like a lot of people get stymied on their first trips — wow!!

    My first Little House trip was at age 18. The whole family DROVE to all the midwestern sites. Very long van trip, let me tell you, especially with a 14 year old brother who was NOT thrilled with the vacation plan.

    I agree with awe. Every little thing was just so amazing. To walk where Laura walked was almost overwhelming for me. We went to Pepin, Burr Oak, Spring Valley, Walnut Grove, De Smet, Independence, and Mansfield that trip — I told you it was long!

    Just a couple weeks before we went, my Lore arrived in my mailbox announcing that William Anderson was going to be at De Smet — the very day we were planning to be there! Of all the luck! I can’t even tell you how excited I was. Garth Williams was also supposed to be there, but wasn’t able to make it due to illness, and he died not long afterward so I never did get to meet him. :o(

    My “closed for Father’s Day” story is that that was also the year of severe midwestern flooding and the Plum Creek was site was closed because of it. We didn’t drive a thousand miles to be turned away, however, and my dad moved the barricades and we drove on in, as far as we could go, because it truly was flooded out! We stood and looked waaaaaaay off across the water (Plum Creek was more like Plum Lake that day!) at the tiny little dugout sign we could barely see in the distance. The really cool thing is, I totally saw how what Laura said about the spring freshet was true — despite all that flooding, the dugout hill was not underwater!

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