Laura Ingalls Wilder
A Pioneer Town
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Homes in Town
Teachers, doctors, dentists, and lawyers often made their homes in town. They provided services to both townspeople and rural dwellers.
Most schools in early prairie towns were one-room school houses. There you could find students ages 6 to 16 and eight grades in one room. There was one teacher for all of them, and often older students were assigned to help the younger ones.
The church was not only the center of religious life in a community but provided the town with social occasions as well. Church suppers were an opportunity for cooks to bring their best recipes and tables were laden with delicious food.
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Most prairie towns, large or small, had at least one hotel. Out- of-town visitors arriving by train lodged here. It was a spot where farm people could stay when in town on business. It was a restaurant as well as a public meeting place.
An overnight stay was about $.50. Meals, too, were about $.50 (except on Sundays when business was slow and a dinner might cost a quarter).
The General Store
Every town had a general store, and they were all much alike. The general store was a place where things could be purchased that were not produced at home. It sold groceries, dry goods and hardware items.
There were no unfilled spaces in (or out of) the store. Items for sale were stocked in bushel baskets, barrels, bins, glass cases, canisters, cloth sacks, shelves, and even overhead on wires strung across the store.
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The Livery Stable and Blacksmith Shop
Horses set the pace for most travel in the 1800s. As a result nearly every town had a livery stable and blacksmith shop.
The livery stable was both a transportation rental agency and a hotel for horses. People who did not own a horse could rent one. Wagons, buggies, and sleighs could be rented, also. Visitors to town could leave their horses at the livery stable where they would be fed, watered, and provided with a stall.
The sound of the blacksmith's hammer striking the anvil was a familiar sound in the shop. The blacksmith was a person of great skill who could shape iron into tools, horseshoes, and wagon-wheel rims.
Along with the pioneer farmers who moved westward to the rich lands of the prairie came the "town builders". They knew farming people would need places to sell their grain and animals as well as places to buy the supplies they needed.
Because the prairie lacked trees for building new structures the lumberyard was the business that could supply lumber for the town which was springing up.
Like the lumberyard, business relied on rivers and wagon roads to send and receive supplies. The railroad assured the growth of business and trade on which the success of a town was based.
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Other Prairie Town Businesses
The number of stores on main street in a town depended on the number of people who lived in and around the town. As the town prospered, artisans with special talents set up their businesses. These buildings had "false fronts" - tall, square extensions - to make them look bigger than they were.
Besides the general store, livery/blacksmith shop, and hotel, other businesses sprang up. A saloon, hardware store, barbershop, pharmacy, millinery (hat) and dressmaker's shop might occupy the buildings. Silversmiths, coopers (barrel makers), shoemakers, and photographers came to earn their living, also.
All contributed to a community whose hope was to grow and become successful as a market and business center for the local farm people.
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