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May 20, 2014
Wilder Museum celbrates 40 year
Kick off of celebration begins with Walk of Lights and open house Memorial Day weekend
WESTBROOK, Minnesota (STPNS) -- Walnut Grove ó Itís no secret that Laura Ingalls Wilder and the television program Little House on the Prairie based on Wilderís book On the Banks of Plum Creek, has brought international notoriety to the little community of Walnut Grove.
While the Ingallsí connection goes back to the 1870ís, it was many years later that the fact they lived on the banks of Plum Creek in a dug out came to light. In February of 1874 the Ingalls left their homestead at Pepin, Wisconsin moving to Walnut Grove, where they purchased a farm and dug out north of Walnut Grove.
When Wilder began writing her books, the book On the Banks of Plum Creek, she never mentioned the town of Walnut Grove.
Fast forward to 1947 ó Harold and Della Gordon purchased the farm that the Ingallís had lived on in the 1870ís. Some time after they bought the farm the Gordons discovered the significance and connection with the Ingalls. Eventually they and Walnut Grove Tribune Publishers Everett and Charles Lantz began promoting the site with signage and a road back to the dug out site.
In 1968 the Ingalls historic monument was erected and dedicated north of the Gordon farm site. Over the years visitors began to come to visit the site, but it wasnít until September of 1974 when Little House on the Prairie first aired that the community began attracting more visitors.
A month later the Gordons requested that the town start a museum ó so visitors would have a place to get directions to the dug out site. In October a committee was formed to make plans to start a museum. After renovating the back room of the Bruce Thoma gas station, on Highway 14, the museum opened the following spring. The museum continued to operate in that space acquiring historical items and acting as a visitors center for the continued increase in visitors.
In 1980 the museum committee purchased the former Botsford Lumber site. They also purchased the former Revere train depot which was located in a junk yard at Lamberton. The committee then hired a mover to move the building to Walnut Grove. After moving the building less than half a mile the floor separated from the building sending it partially into the ditch.
After the movers abandoned the project Marlin Schmidt of Westbrook agreed to rebuild the floor and found another mover to continue moving the building to the present site.
After renovating the depot building the museum opened in the spring of 1981. Since that time the museum has continued to expand to a full campus of buildings and a modern spacious visitor center and gift shop.
In 1982 Industrial Arts teacher and one of his classes converted a small shed into the chapel. In 1984 Home Ec teacher Donna Knudsonís home - ec class renovated a small grainery owned by Conrad Steen into the one room school house.
In 1987 the Bob McVenes exhibit hall was built where the current visitor center and gift shop is located. In 1988 a man in a pickup truck lost control of his vehicle and drove it through to the inside of the building.
In 1993 Grandmaís House was purchased from Pat Peterson along with a large building to the rear of the property. About a year later Grandmaís House opened with a variety of displays including a large doll collection from Kathy Mischke. It includes a hands on area for children along with displays of Garth Williams Illustrations, new story boards for the Laura room.
The large building was remodeled in 1999 and completed in 2001. This large display area is called Heritage Lane and has local displays including many community artifacts. There is a display of equipment from the former Walnut Grove Tribune newspaper office, a general store, a local telephone switch board, and many pioneer tools and a hands on general store display.
A building was donated and converted into the Eleck Nelson homestead it was refurbished in 2003 and opened in 2004. At the same time the sod front dugout was built showing how the Ingalls lived when they were along Plum Creek.
Several murals from Minnesota artists have been added to the depot, and Heritage Lane the past few years.
In 1999 the McVenes building was remodeled into a visitor center and gift shop and opened the spring of 2000. In 2011 the museum began the first phase of remodeling the visitor center. Additional space was added to the gift shop, and office area. In 2012 phase 2 of the plan began more than doubling the visitor center and gift shop, along with more storage space.
Board members include: Jim Kleven - president; Cathy Baumann - vice-president; Lori Johnson - treasurer; Beth Kleven - secretary; Lynn Swanson, Robyn Hansen, Carolyn Enstad, Jesse James, Ed Fornberg. Sandy Carpenter, Stanley Gordon, Greg Hansen, Dan Warner, Kari Maas, Steve Hanson.
Honorary board members: Edna Lessman, Shirley Knakmuhs, Kathy Mischke.
Museum Staff: Amy Ankrum - director; Nicole Elzenga - collections manager; Sarah Warner - office assistant; Kenni Ahonen, Marlys Pemble, Rose Pederson, Wendy Rogotzke, Hannah DeSmith, and Kalee Mischke.
The museum will be holding their annual open house on Memorial Day weekend with free admission to the museum campus. If you have never seen the museum or have not seen it for a while stop by and see what is new.
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