Burr Oak today
Town in Winneshiek County, Iowa, the location of the only childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder still in its original location.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum in Burr Oak, Iowa, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit museum. Its mission is to present Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life in Burr Oak and her family’s experiences by connecting visitors with the pioneer experience.
Burr Oak is located in Winneshiek County, Iowa, three miles south of the Minnesota-Iowa line, just east of U.S. Highway 52. The county seat, Decorah, is twelve miles south of town. Burr Oak is 40 miles southwest of Spring Valley, Minnesota, and 78 miles south of Zumbro Falls. It is about 100 miles north of Vinton, Iowa, where Mary Ingalls attended college.
The main street through Burr Oak is 236th Avenue, which runs parallel to and east of Highway 52. It was originally known as State Street.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum, Silver Creek, and the Burr Oak Cemetery are important Little House sites in Burr Oak. Also visit the sites of the Congregational Church, the Ingallses’ rented house in town, and the schoolhouse site.
There are a number of interesting places to visit while in Winneshiek County. While in Decorah, visit the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum on Water Street and the Porter House Museum on Broadway. Bily Clock Museum is located in Spillville, near Decorah.
Sites of Interest in Burr Oak. The Masters Hotel is located on the west side of 236th Avenue (State Street). It is part of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum complex, which includes the historic bank building, the park behind the hotel, and the historic Advent Church.
Silver Creek – once deeper and wider and full of fish – still meanders behind the Masters Hotel and through town. During the 1870s, there was a swimming hole northeast of town.
The Burr Oak Cemetery is located just south of town. You can walk the rows of the peaceful cemetery and read the same headstones that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in Pioneer Girl. The names of many 1870s Burr Oak families are evident, including Pfeiffer, Masters, Symms, and Ward.
The Burr Oak Congregational Church – originally on Water Street (now 362nd Street) – is no longer standing, but the Advent Church was completed in 1877 and is owned and has been restored by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum. The church is located just north of the cemetery.
The two-story brick schoolhouse Laura and Mary attended was built in 1867 and was replaced by a new schoolhouse in 1910. The original school stood to the east of the present building site.
The house rented by the Ingallses in 1877 stood on the north side of Lansing Street (now 361st Street). The house is no longer standing.
Burr Oak Mercantile building is south of the Masters Hotel on the corner of 236th Avenue and 360th Street. Kimball’s Grocery was located north of this building.
The historic Burr Oak Bank building now houses the offices and gift shop for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum. It is located across the road from the hotel.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum was founded in the early 1970s when it was discovered that the Masters Hotel building (which had been a private residence for many years and was in poor condition) had a connection to Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books. The building and grounds were purchased in 1973 for $1500. The hotel was lovingly restored and filled with items of historical importance to Burr Oak as well as items of interest to Little House fans. On display are clothes worn by Laura’s teacher, William H. Reed, and a George Bent organ. George Bent lived in Burr Oak in the 1860s while his father was Congregational minister there. The George P. Bent Co. was established in 1878 to manufacture pump organs; it also produced high quality pianos.
In 1976, one hundred years after occupied by the Ingallses, the Hotel was opened as a museum. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2003, the Museum opened the restored Burr Oak Bank building as museum office and bookstore. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum offers memberships at a variety of levels. See website for details. The photos below show (L-R): The restored Masters Hotel, rear of the Masters Hotel, the Advent Church, Pfeiffer/May home (no longer standing), and a portion of Silver Creek north of town.
Burr Oak, Iowa