In June of 1886, Caroline Ingalls purchased two lots on Third Street in De Smet, South Dakota, from Eliza Jane Wilder for just $100.
Farming was a tough time and Pa, Ma and the girls moved to town from the homestead to be closer to work and school. First, Pa dug the cellar in 1887. It was a simple cellar with a dirt floor and dirt walls. His efforts on the new home were noted in the De Smet news, therefore an accurate date is available. Next, he began building the house. It was a simple, small home. Like many pioneer homes, this one was built one section at a time as time and funds allowed. The first portion of the home consisted of two rooms on the main floor and a large room upstairs. Pa and Ma slept downstairs and the girls slept upstairs. At this time, Laura was no longer living with her family. The rest of the additions to the house are not as easily dated, although studying the wood, layout and family history enables historians to make educated speculations. The next portion of the house was the back kitchen. It is most commonly noted for the beautiful wall of cupboards on the west side that Pa built for Ma. It’s most likely that this addition to the house was made in the spring following the family’s first winter in the home. In 1906, the city added a sidewalk in front of the homes on Third Street. Later, at an unknown date, the house was added onto again for the final time, and a parlor and a bedroom were added. At this point, the house felt large and spacious. Ma and Pa slept in the newest portion of the home, Mary slept in a small bedroom near the dining room and Carrie and Grace slept upstairs. Eventually, the house passed from Ma, to Mary, and finally to Carrie. Carrie was the last Ingalls family member to own the home. Fast-forward to 1957, when the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society held its very first meeting. By 1964, they incorporated with the state of South Dakota. In October of 1973, the LIWMS acquired the house and began the long process of restoration. At the time of purchase, the house was in a poor state. The initial repairs were conducted by the local Jaycees and Jaycettes.
In the process of restoring the house, they discovered newspaper on the main floor in the walls of Mary’s bedroom. The newspaper had been used for insulation and is dated to be from 1890. The following three photos were taken following the initial restoration process. Today, during the historic homes tour, visitors can see the original newspaper on display in the original location in the home. In 1977, a new foundation and basement were built, and in 1978, the roof was outfitted with cedar shingles.
This information was collected from interviews with Cheryl Palmlund, The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society archives and “The Laura Ingalls Wilder Lore”, Volume 5, Number 2.