A Master Plan for the “Little House” Homestead

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Home & Museum is located on a 173-acre historic site, Rocky Ridge Farm, near Mansfield, approximately 50 miles from Springfield. It’s where Laura Ingalls Wilder carried out her writing career – first, as a journalist for the Missouri Ruralist and other publications, and then as an author of a celebrated series of children’s books which chronicle her life on the American frontier.

In February 1957, three days after her 90th birthday, Laura passed away, and by the following May the home became a historic landmark for visitors. The next year the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home & Association was formed and a permanent Board of Directors was elected.

Eventually, time and lack of an overall vision for the property took its toll on the homestead. Buildings had deteriorated, administrative offices and tourist accommodations were built, and the homestead no longer interpreted Laura and her husband Almanzo’s story. The Association reached out to architecture firms in the region for assistance in developing an overall master plan for Rocky Ridge Farm, and after submitting qualifications and an interview, Butler, Rosenbury & Partners was selected to assist the Association with this task.

Jean Coday, the Association’s President shared her thoughts about the process and the final master plan:

“And so, after several interviews in 2004, we selected an architect. I knew we needed professionals who were technically proficient, to be sure, but who could also engage in tedious research and who could empathetically connect to the Wilders, to their farm, and to the innovative spirit of the place. We knew the stories and generally what the Wilders owned and did, but we needed someone to organize the information and illustrate it so that we could better evaluate the history, share it with others, and better know how to move forward. We knew we needed to know more about the land, how it was farmed, and what it looked like. But the nature of what has emerged in the historical document…has surprised me in it scholarship and depth…Because of this work, we can move forward confidently with our plans for the future – knowing that we have a good foundation of historically grounded data on which to base our decision making now and in the future.”

Recently, BR&P completed the design for a new Museum, Visitor’s Center & Library, scheduled for construction in 2013. Part of the funding is through a USDA – Rural Development grant, and the remainder of the funding will be provided through a fundraising campaign which is underway. Former First Lady Laura Bush, serves as the honorary chair of the campaign.

In addition to welcoming and orienting visitors to Rocky Ridge Farm, the new facility will house an Archive Library, which will preserve manuscripts of her writings, as well as papers, photographs and other Wilder-related records and documents. It will provide controlled access for researchers and staff, as well as correct environmental conditions for the long-term preservation of the collection.

Tim Rosenbury, AIA, BR&P’s Principal in Charge for the project had this to say, “This assignment carried with it the enormous responsibility of protecting an acknowledged national resource, as we propose changes to it. Our strategy has been to engage the client in the historical and physical research of the site. Together, we developed a deeper understanding of what this place is, and what it can be. The Archives Center project will be the first fruit of that research and shared vision of Rocky Ridge Farm.”

Whether it’s an old house, an old building or an old farm, BR&P specializes in stewardship of historic environments and their continued use. Call Tim Rosenbury, AIA, at 417-865-6100 for assistance with your historic structure.