The story of Laura Ingalls Wilder and many of her Little House on the Prairie series took place in De Smet, South Dakota. Just 40 miles west on Highway 14 from Brookings you can find this treasured piece of American History frozen in time. As you plan this year’s adventure on the Prairie, be sure to include Brookings on your route. With 750 comfortable hotel rooms, a variety of restaurants, plenty of family fun, Brookings is a history buff’s paradise.
This area of the 605 is rich with history spanning all the way back to 1881 when Dakota Agricultural College, now South Dakota State University, was established. If you are looking to dive back in time, there is much to explore! Whether you are exploring the historic Harvey Dunn works in the South Dakota Art Museum or watching the story itself unfold in front of you at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant, you will feel like you have been transported to the historic prairie frontier.
One of the many historical attractions this area has to offer is in its 53rd year of educating and entertaining. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant in De Smet combines over 100 volunteers to present a family-friendly drama based on the story of the Ingalls family pioneering through the West. In 2024, they are preforming the 5th-7th, 12th-14th, and the 19th-21st. In addition to the pageant, to honor the milestone anniversary, there will also be special events each weekend all celebrating Dakota heritage.
Get a closer look into how the pioneers of the West lived by touring all the homes the Ingalls family occupied while in De Smet as well as the first school in town where Laura and her sister Carrie attended on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes tour.
The abundance of history does not stop with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s story, Brookings has plenty of historical gems from years past.
When in Brookings the perfect place to stop when you are itching for a blast from the past is both of our beloved state museums, the South Dakota Art Museum, and the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum. Between the two of these institutions, you can find relics dating all the way back to the 1800s.
The art museum features a magnificent collection of the legendary South Dakota artist, Harvey Dunn. From his stunning portraits to his powerful war works, the different pieces will transport you back in time, including the ever popular “The Prairie is My Garden”.
You can also see just what brought all the settlers from the east westward at the South Dakota Claim Shanty exhibit located at the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum. The homestead act of 1862 offered 160 acres of land to any head-of-house provided they live on the land for five years and pay the filing fee. This piece of history is represented in the claim shanty replica many settlers first built to claim their land. Children will especially love the hands-on activities on the second floor where they can gather eggs and learn more about the early days of agriculture.
No family trip to the area is complete without a stop at the Children’s Museum of South Dakota. You won’t see a buffalo at this Outdoor Prairie. Instead, you’ll come face to face with Mama and Max, life-size animatronic dinosaurs, who roamed this part of the state long before the days of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
You can finish off your day with a hearty dinner full of classic South Dakota staples at the Pheasant Restaurant. Established in 1949, the Pheasant is our community’s oldest full-service restaurant, keeping you engulphed in your journey through the past.
Pioneering through South Dakotan history has never been simpler with so much history packed into one area! Whether you are here for a day or a week, you’ll find plenty to of fun for the entire family.