De Smet- Little Town on the Prairie- Home of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Welcome to Laura’s Little Town! Learn, play, and make memories with your family. From Ingalls family home tours to our historic main street, covered wagon rides to outdoor theater, De Smet offers a great opportunity to explore our pioneer heritage. We are proud to share it with your family.
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books capture the founding of De Smet and her family was De Smet’s first residents. Laura grew up on her family’s homestead, attended school in De Smet’s first school, worked her first job on our main street, went courting with Almanzo across the prairie, and started her own family here in De Smet. She carried these memories throughout her life.
For more information about what to see and do in De Smet, contact us.
You can stay right in De Smet at our B&Bs, motels or campgrounds.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society » Discover Laura!
Journey into Laura’s life and history with a visit to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society. Join our costumed guides and stop into the railroad surveyors’s shanty where Laura and her family spend their first Dakota winter in 1879.
The Memorial Society preserves and presents the largest collection of Ingalls family memorabilia, with over 2000 original artifacts. Children are invited to try an old fashioned sewing machine, dress like a pioneer and learn how to read Braille at the Discovery Center. For more than fifty years, visitors from around the world have been drawn to this fascinating look into the lives of Laura and her family. This is a must see for all Laura fans.
Ingalls Homestead » Laura’s Living Prairie
Living History. Covered Wagon Camping. Fresh Air. Wide-open Prairies. Experience our pioneer heritage on the quarter-section of land Charles Ingalls earned through the Homestead Act.
Drive a covered wagon, attend a one-room schoolhouse, twist hay, grind wheat, make rope, wash clothes, experience the homesteading history that shaped our nation. Lured by the prospect of free land from the Homestead Act of 1862, the Ingalls family, just like thousands of other pioneers flocked to the midwest to take Uncle Sam up on his bet - that they could turn 160 acres of prairie into a family farm.
Today native prairie grasses cover over one hundred acres, period buildings house exhibits that share homestead life, and hands-on activities allow families to understand the changes in our agricultural heritage. Our friendly staff invites you to spend an old-fashioned family day at Ingalls Homestead.
Camp on Laura’s open prairie in a covered wagon, bunkhouse, RV and tents.
Open every day, including holidays, Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day. Contact us for spring and autumn hours.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant » Theater on the Prairie
2019 Performance: By the Shores of Silver Lake July 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, and 21.
Each summer since 1971, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant has welcomed visitors from around the world to watch Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books come to life on the outdoor stage. Just across the road from Charles Ingalls’s homestead land, overlooking cottonwoods he planted and the Big Slough, visitors watch the sunset during the show.
Entertainment and wagon rides available prior to the show. Concessions, gift shop, and restrooms on-site.
Gates open at 6:00 PM; show begins at 8:00 PM. Seating provided, lawn chairs are welcome.
Come early...There are free wagon rides for the entire family and photo opportunities. Advance purchase of tickets is not necessary because there is plenty of seating and parking. All seating is general admission.
For more information, email or call 800-776-3594 or 800-880-3383
Laura wrote of Mr. Loftus and the Loftus store in several of her “Little House” books.
Daniel Loftus came to De Smet in late 1879 and established the Loftus Store, a general merchandise store that he ran successfully until his death 43 years later. Through his time as owner, Mr. Loftus featured the finest of goods on his shelves, and the store became known as “The Quality Store.” The Loftus Store became the town’s social center: men would play checkers, share the latest area news and discuss crucial information such as when the train would arrive carrying much needed food for the winter.
The original Loftus Store still stands on main street (Calumet Ave.) and displays memorabilia from times of yore. All are welcome to come on in and live the history.
Silver Lake & Walking Trail
Silver Lake, a pothole lake formed by the melting glaciers, was the site of the railroad camp and the Surveyor’s Shanty. The Ingalls lived in the Shanty when they first came to De Smet. The lake, which is modest in size, is often inquired about by many of De
Smet’s visitors. The lake is located just east of the city.
Phase one of a Walking Trail to Silver Lake was completed in 2008. It provides a short concrete path to the Silver lake area. Enjoy an easy walk back in history with an excellent opportunity for wildlife viewing.
Wilder Welcome Center & Prairie Bus Tours
Located on the site of Fuller’s Hardware Store across the street from where the Ingalls family spent the Long Winter, the Wilder Welcome Center is here to answer your questions and help you discover what to see and do in De Smet. In-depth bus tours, offered daily in the summer, get visitors into the countryside to see Laura’s beloved prairie. Little House fans get a chance to see Silver Lake, the Big Slough, Lake Henry, the De Smet Cemetery, and Almanzo’s homestead and tree claim sites.
Gifts and art form local artisans and Laura-loving artisans from around the country available. Restrooms and a comfy place to sit and rest for a moment are available for all visitors.
For more information, call us at 605-854-3123 or email us.
Depot Museum / Harvey Dunn School
Take a step back in time to the early days of De Smet area residents. The current depot was built in 1906 after a fire on April 23, 1905 destroyed the original one. Pa Ingalls served at the first depot in De Smet. Today visitors can see original lights, windows and fixtures are still in the depot over one hundred years later. The brick walkway on the west of the depot ground was laid by the Chicago Northwestern Railroad Company in 1906.
The museum is home to local and regional artifacts. The artifacts include everything from vintage clothing, a pot-bellied stove, an ornate organ, children’s toys, and military artifacts. The museum is also home to a wildlife display that includes native birds and animals.
The Depot Museum is open June, July and August. It is local volunteers. For more information or to volunteer, please call Charmeine Bohn 854-3809 or Helen Gehm at 854-3274.
De Smet Cemetary
The De Smet Cemetery is located southwest of De Smet on a beautiful hilltop with many trees overlooking the city as well as a view of the site of the Charles “Pa” Ingalls homestead and the “big slough” to the east. Each year hundreds of visitors view the
grave sites of several of the Ingalls family, including Charles, Caroline, Mary, Carrie, Grace and infant son of Laura and Almanzo Wilder. Familiar names from the Little House of the Prairie television series and from Laura’s books are also found on many of the gravestones.
Even though the original ten acres of land for the Cemetery was purchased and the Cemetery Association was incorporated in 1881 when it was still Dakota Territory, there are headstones dating back to 1880. A WPA project graveled the roadways and alleys around each block and a mausoleum was erected in 1978. Of the over 2,100 grave sites, there are veterans with service dating back to 1889; among them being men from the distinguished Company “E” serving in the Spanish American War in 1898. The St. Thomas Catholic Cemetery lies adjacent to the east of the original.
Couse Opera House
De Smet once had a flourishing opera house. The closest you can come now is when you visit Ward's Bakery. Ward's is a great place for lunch or breakfast and is located across the street from what was once "Pa" Ingalls' store. Ward's owner, Patti Ward Slater, has converted it to her family living quarters, but she has retained many of the best architectural features of the old theater. Visitors are impressed by the beauty of the place.
The building now housing Ward's Restaurant and Bakery was Edward H. Couse's hardware store when Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in De Smet. In those days, the town had no place for meetings or public entertainment.
The local citizens wanted a place to host traveling theatrical shows and hold suppers, dances and other events. In 1886, Mr. Couse replaced his frame hardware store with a magnificient two- story brick 44 foot front building. He had the second floor fitted out as an opera house and decided on a unique way to dedicate the new facility. He offered a free kitchen stove and cooking utensils to the first couple willing to be married in the new theater. Of course, he had plenty of volunteers. The event was a success and over the next three decades, the opera house was the prime spot for not only entertainment such as minstrel shows, musicals and vaudeville acyts, but it also provided a place for local social events. In renovating the old theater as her home, Patti Ward Slater has managed to retain most of the architectural features of the grand old theater.
-American Roads Travel Magazine
*Photos courtesy of South Dakota Tourism