Two weeks ago, I had an opportunity to travel from my home in Mankato, Minnesota, east, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The goal of my trip was to spend a day with my sister-in-law, Bridget, topped off by seeing the Broadway touring production of Mamma Mia! (Fabulous show, by the way; I highly recommend it!)
As I started out from Mankato, I couldn’t help but notice the temps were way below zero. And I decided it would be fun to keep a log of my trip, following the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Highway east toward her roots, to those of her parents, in the spirit of On the Way Home.
At each stop along the way–and never while I was actually driving–I sent a text message to update my Facebook status. I noted where I was, what I was up to, and the temperature. It stayed below zero until I got into Wisconsin; by the time I was in Wisconsin Dells–stopping at Exit 92 for a Dunkin’ Donut and cup of coffee–it was well above zero. And I realized I had another Laura opportunity: I could stop in Concord, armed with new general directions for finding the original farms of Charlotte Quiner Holbrook and Lansford P. Ingalls.
I’ve been to Concord before. At one point, I lived in Milwaukee for three years, and I took advantage of that opportunity to seek out these roots of Caroline and Charles. But at LauraPalooza last summer, in talks with John Bass, I got more specific directions to the original farms. I decided to go off the freeway at County Road F and drive out that direction.
The problem, however, was that I couldn’t be sure I was in the right space. Some of these sites felt familiar–the Groose area, for example, rang a dim bell–but because this was an impulse stop, I wasn’t armed with the right maps to make sure I was in the right spot. Naturally, I sent a text message to Facebook noting my dilemma, as part of the log, before moving on.
And got a wonderful lesson in the power of the social network and the generosity of the Laura community.
Nansie Cleaveland, who is a dedicated Wilder researcher, happened to note my problem, and she had the maps! She scanned them and posted links to them for me on Facebook. I retrieved the maps on my phone, and on the way back from Milwaukee, easily found the right spot. (Nansie since has written post of her own about this experience, and included those links for anybody else wandering through Concord at her blog, Pioneer Girl.)
My problem had been that I was looking for the farms south of the Oconomowac River, and south and east of Concord. The farms are actually north and east of Concord. They adjoin at a specific spot:
Parked on that corner, I took pictures to the north and east of the intersection.
This sweeping cornfield, with the farmhouse just up the street, was original Lansford P. Ingalls land–where Charles spent most of a his youth.
It’s easy to see, with as close as the two farms were, how three different couples evolved from the numerous young people who lived there. Henry Quiner and Polly Ingalls, Eliza Quiner and Peter Ingalls, and Caroline Quiner and Charles Ingalls all married.
The Quiner/Holbrook land lays kitty-corner across the street from this intersection. This is the sweep of field and stream that exists there now:
I just barely missed shooting an image of my vehicle in the foreground of this one.
If the farmhouses were located in roughly the same spots as they are today, the young people living on these farms only had to walk about a half a mile to go visiting. There would have been many more trees than exist today; the farm land has been cleared and planted, and these farms look to be successful and self-supporting.
As we drive down the road south, with the Holbrook farm on the right, a delightful surprise awaits: When we approach the river, which apparently once wandered through the Holbrook land, several houses have sprung up on the right, a mini-village of sorts. The entire site is still in the Town of Concord, but one would have to cross the river–and today, Interstate 94–to get to the village crossroads.
Much easier, today, is to turn right at the river, and go to Concord General Store just off the freeway for gas and an ice cream cone or coffee. Even if the owners didn’t know, when I asked, that they were just down the road from Little House history.