Many drawn to Harkin Store

Adelia Stay examines the old-fashioned dresses in her new paper-doll book.

NEW ULM — Several families on history tours came to the New Ulm area Sunday due in part to the Wilder Pageant in Walnut Grove.

The Harkin Store experienced a rush of families in the afternoon for their special programing, which was dedicated to Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The Harkin Store was open in the 1870s and would have been in operation during the time Laura Ingalls lived in Walnut Grove. The items that are still on the shelf in the Harkin Store are an accurate representation of what the Ingalls family would have purchased at the Oleson Mercantile.

For the special programing, the store had on display items referenced in Ingalls’ books. For instance, Pa Ingalls often needed a boot jack to take off his shoes. A wooden boot jack was on display next to a passage from Laura’s third book referencing the item.

Site manager Ruth Grewe was behind the store’s counter, answering questions about the store and the time period. Many of the visiting children were surprised by the amount of work that was expected of frontier-era kids.

“They don’t realize the amount of work kids did back then,” Grewe said. “The more the kids did, the faster the work got done. The work prepared children for having a family of their own.”

The Little House on the Prairie books emphasize the challenges of growing up in the frontier days, since Ingalls wrote the books from a child’s perspective.

Most of the families visiting the Harkin Store were fans of Ingalls’ books and had recently visited Walnut Grove.

Heather Olson said that she and her daughter Haley were re-watching the “Little House on the Prairie” TV series together. Haley said her favorite character is Laurie.

Heather said it was a different experience watching the show as an adult, compared to a kid. “You didn’t realize how different things were back then,” she said.

The Stay family from Chanhassen was also at the pageant. They have been trying to hit as many historical sites as possible. They were told about the Harkin Store after visiting Walnut Grove. Their daughter Adelia found a paper-doll book featuring old-fashioned dresses that attracted her interest.

The influx of Wilder fans is expected to continue next weekend. The Plum Creek flooded earlier this month, forcing the Wilder Pageant to reschedule the July 6 and July 7 performances to later in the month.

The Harkin Store will continue its historical programing from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. next Sunday with a Christmas in July celebration. Visitors can see how settlers celebrated a prairie Christmas.