History of The Surveyors’ House
Built around 1879, one year before there was even a town, The Surveyors’ House is the oldest building in De Smet and served as a railroad company house. According to Pa’s journal, the Ingalls family moved in on December 1, 1879, and spent their first winter there. The house often served as a hotel for the many homesteaders coming through the area. Laura wrote about many of the experiences from that first winter in her book By the Shores of Silver Lake.
The Surveyors’ House originally stood on the north shore of Silver Lake until it was moved to town in 1884. Many different families have lived in the house throughout the years; however, no major changes were made to the house until 1945. At that time, the old planks and batten still covered the outside. The sketch below provides a visual image of how the house would have looked before improvements were made.
Improvements were made to the house, including siding the exterior and adding a basement. Running water and indoor plumbing were also installed. The steps and entry were later added to the basement.
In 1967, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society purchased the home and the task of restoring the Surveyors’ House began. With the Society and local groups hard at work, the home soon started to look like it had in 1879. The Surveyors’ House was opened the following year to many visitors interested in seeing the Surveyors’ House of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood.
On-Site Tour of the Surveyors’ House
Tours at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes begin in the gift shop. The first home toured is the Surveyors’ House, which holds many unique artifacts.
A guide explains the Ingalls’ family travels and how they came to live in the Surveyors’ house during their first winter in De Smet.
After learning about the home, guests are free to explore the home and enjoy all of the artifacts and unique items. Many people who visit are surprised by how small the home is, but remember what Laura said the first time she saw the house?
Her memory is recorded in By the Shores of Silver Lake: “Laura thought that there must have been a great many surveyors to need so much space. This would be by far the largest house she had ever lived in.”
By the Shores of Silver Lake also describes setting up Grace’s trundle bed in the new house:
Pa came in bringing a large, shallow packing box.
“What’s that for, Charles?” Ma asked, and Pa said, “This is Grace’s trundle bed!”
“It’s the only thing we needed!” Ma exclaimed.
“The sides are high enough to hold her covers tucked in,” said Pa.
“And low enough to go under our bed in the daytime, like any trundle bed,” said Ma.
Laura and Carrie made up a little bed for Grace in the packing box, and slid it under the big bed.
This post is part of a series: A Virtual Tour of “The Little Town on the Prairie.” If you are new to the series and would like to start at the beginning of the tour, please click here!