The homesite in Independence, Kansas claims the distinction of being the very first homesite I ever visited, way back in 2001. I’d just moved to the southwestern edge of Kansas the year before from Boston, and I planned my visit to Independence around a trip back to the east coast. It was a couple hours out of the way, but I was heading for an eight-hour drive anyway, all the way diagonally across Kansas from the Kansas City airport. I had time.
Back then, the site was just starting to gain momentum. It didn’t have regular hours, or a website (it was 2001, after all). But I had gathered what information I could online and navigated my way south from Kansas City, almost to the Oklahoma border.
My excitement was palpable, at once prickly and whooshing through me. From behind the wheel, I saw a sign, green with white lettering: “Verdigris River.” With a shuddering intake of breath I looked down as I drove over a small bridge, but the brush was so thick I couldn’t identify any water. But still! I had driven over the Verdigris! The same Verdigris River mentioned all over the book! The one that likely fed the creek that Mr. Edwards had braved in flooded conditions, clothes on his head and potatoes in his pockets, just to bring Laura and Mary their Christmas candy.
It’s like that when you first approach the homesites. You see the signs: Lake Thompson or Plum Creek or Pepin. Your heart begins to flutter in a speed directly proportional to the level of your fandom. Your breathing seems to stop.
That Sunday in June, as the sign directed me to turn south off route 160 toward the tiny town of Wayside, Kansas, my anticipation grew. By the time I approached the wide expanse of fields and saw the fenced-off log cabin replica, I was so excited I almost forgot to park. But I managed it, then walked over to the fence, where I was greeted by this handwritten sign:
Ever see that Charlie Brown special “Snoopy Come Home”? Specifically this part (and the song beginning at :33)? And do you remember how you felt?
Then you know.
Twelve years later, I’m happy to say, the site is much different. And today, May 6, 2012, the Sunday edition of Tulsa World provides a great rundown on the site and what it’s like to visit. I’m pretty picky about my Little House articles; this seems well done.