Since our son moved up to the North Country of New York State, we’ve driven through the town of Malone en route to see him and his family. The towns “Malone” and “Canton” seemed familiar because of our old stomping grounds in Ohio. But something kept nagging at me,….why did Malone, NY, seem so familiar? Then last month on our trip up here, we passed a small blue sign which read, “Almanzo Wilder Boyhood Home.” THAT was it! The lights came on and I remembered that the town of Malone had played a major role in the story “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the best-loved series “Little House on the Prairie.” We decided then and there, this was a day-trip that HAD to happen. We loaded two of our granddaughters into the truck and took off for an afternoon of educational enjoyment.
If you are not familiar with the “Little House” books, by all means, check them out. Though marketed as children’s literature, they are suitable for all ages and paint a wonderful picture of pioneer life in our country in the late 19th century. Though most of the books record the life of the Ingalls family, book two in the series, “Farmer Boy,” chronicles the boyhood life of Laura’s husband, Almanzo, as he lived on the family farm.
The Almanzo & Laura Ingalls Wilder Association has procured the farm and done a wonderful job restoring the original homestead and reconstructing the barns on the property without turning it into a tourist trap. Costumed interpreters lead the tours and their love of the story of Almanzo and Laura shine through their narrated program. Our particular guide, who assumed the role of Almanzo’s father, was extremely entertaining and knowledgeable about the book and not only Almanzo’s family tree, but Laura’s and even Nellie and Willie Olsen–remember them?
As we made our way through the house, our tour guide stopped in the parlor and showed us the spot where Almanzo threw the blacking brush at Eliza Jane. We climbed the steep steps to the upstairs bedrooms and saw a replica of Mother’s loom and Almanzo’s blue ribbon he won with his milk-fed pumpkin at the fair. In the barns, the pens where Lucy the pig and Star and Bright, Almanzo’s oxen, bedded down were all labeled. You could close your eyes and picture the stalls all being occupied and hearing the moo’s, clucks, baa’s, and lowing of the animals. We were all given the opportunity to card wool and pump water to fill the troughs for the animals.
The Wilder Homestead is open for tours Monday-Saturday 10-4 and Sundays 12-4, the end of May-the end of September. As expected, this is THE major field trip for fourth graders here in the North Country, with lesson plans and teacher guides available. There is also a replica of a one-room school house on the grounds and a large pavilion for group activities and lunches. Though no photography is permitted inside the buildings, we were free to roam the grounds and snap as many photos of the building exteriors as we liked.
Though we didn’t have time, there is a path across the street and through the woods which you can hike to the Trout River and the docents can give you a guide of different places in the town of Malone that are mentioned in the book.If you are ever in the North Country of New York State, I would highly recommend a stop at the Wilder Homestead. It will allow you to step back in time and catch a glimpse of farm life in the 1800’s and also revive some sweet memories of the Little House books.