The Sets & Interactive Walnut Grove Map
In common with most television of the time, Little House on the Prairie utilized two types of filming to bring the show to life: location filming for most of the scripted outdoor scenes, and filming on an indoor soundstage back at a studio for most of the indoor scenes. This hybrid approach was seen as better than solely using one or the other as outdoor scenes tend to look better when actually shot in the open air, and indoor scenes are generally more controllable on a soundstage, which also affords better sound recording (among other factors, less interruptions from overhead planes and the like).
Here is my version of a map of Walnut Grove and the Ingalls' cabin homestead at Plum Creek as they were laid out on location. It's quite a difficult plan to compile as the buildings are mostly not square on to each other but at rather weird angles; the camera often also uses lenses which either foreshorten the distances or lengthen them. I've tried to consider these distortions when drawing the map, so I hope it is a little bit more accurate than some other efforts out there!
If the map is not big enough, you can use the CTRL and + key combination to enlarge it.
The buildings can be clicked on (or touched) to identify them. The blue arrows can also be clicked on (or touched) and will show a photo taken approximately from that position.
Location – The Cabin, “Plum Creek”
The main Little House on the Prairie location work was filmed at the Tapo Ranch in Simi Valley, California (after 1981 this was called The Big Sky Ranch due to a change of ownership) about 40 or so miles to the north-west of Los Angeles. The Ranch had previously hosted work for Gunsmoke, Rawhide and, from time to time, Bonanza (the latter starring Michael Landon, of course) so it had a good pedigree. Two locations were selected on the Ranch: one to act as the main town of Walnut Grove (where the church and mercantile etc. were situated) and other to act as the site of the Ingalls' cabin and barn. Both sites were off the Ranch's Middle Range Fire Road, to the north of the actual Simi Valley city. Incidentally, another location along the same road, between the two Little House sites, hosted the town seen in the short-lived Merlin Olsen show, Father Murphy.
An aerial view of the layout at the cabin site (lat./long. coordinates: 34.327737 -118.722684). The buildings from left to right: the cabin, the toilet/outhouse, the hen-run, the barn and pen, the sod house/soddy. You can see the creek to the left. This was made of cement and ended abruptly (bottom-left) as it was fed by pumps. The white "lines" near the creek are the hoses providing the water supply – these would not have been shown on camera, of course.
The cast (including Jack the dog) stroll along for a publicity photo in front of the cabin. The cabin's wood was quite light-colored early on in the show's history but weathered and darkened down considerably as the series progressed. The cabin was constructed specially for Little House on the Prairie and hadn't simply been inherited from an earlier show or movie.
The tale of the location cabin after the show ended in 1984 is a muddled and unlikely affair. The Producers were contractually obliged to return the Simi Valley sites to the condition in which they found them, which meant the removal of all the structures made for the show, including the cabin. The story goes that Stan Ivar (who played John Carter towards the end of the series) took the, apparently unwanted, cabin home with him with a view to somehow utilizing it in the future (although he was subsequently warned against trying to exploit the structure by the show's rights' holder, Ed Friendly).
Apparently, it had then been decided the cabin was wanted back at Simi Valley to act as a draw for occasional open days at the site and as general publicity for the Ranch's usage as a TV/movie filming location. So, unlikely as it seems, somebody, somewhere then commissioned and built a replica. The replacement was none too bad, but the width of the structure had been reduced by several feet. I doubt whether most visitors at this time were aware they were just visiting an imposter!
The photo above shows a fan of the show and his daughter visiting the site during one such open day in 1987. Behind them stands the replica cabin. This version of the cabin was destroyed by the California wildfires of 2003. (Contrary to reports elsewhere, the cabin was not rebuilt again after 2003 and the site demonstrably remained empty thereafter.)
This is a faux-frontal copy of the TV cabin attached to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum at the real Walnut Grove in Minnesota. It looks like a giant sink plunger has become stuck down the chimney!
The show has a large following in France (where it is called La Petite Maison dans la Prairie). So much so that two French fans have constructed their own replica cabins! On the left is one in Campénéac, Brittany, masterminded by Claire Vilani and built in five months in 2023. A genuine Michael Landon-worn hat adorns the wall on the inside. It (the cabin, not the hat) is available for rent (tours also available), but we are warned: "Atypical accommodation with no electricity, no shower and no bath. Small LED lamps will be at your disposal to light your way. There's a water pump for your sanitary needs and dry toilets in the picturesque garden hut. For safety reasons, food preparation is not permitted in the cottage, but you can have delicious meals delivered or take advantage of the nearby restaurants." A rather more modern break is afforded by Landon Cottage, situated 20 metres from the above cabin.
On the right, is a cabin built in 2010 by Yves Muller ("and a couple of carpenter friends") in his garden in Gaubiving, Lorraine. Muller watched DVDs of the show and guesstimated the dimensions of the structure using Michael Landon's 5'8" height as a guide! Yves was delighted when Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson) visited his project.
Location – The Town, “Walnut Grove”
The second main site at Simi Valley that the show used held the buildings for the center of town (the mill, mercantile etc.) It was about one mile west (coordinates: 34.326277 -118.737207) of the cabin site, above, along the same Middle Range Fire Road. In addition, assorted other structures on the same ranch were used as various out-of-town buildings; some of these pre-dated Little House and were inherited from Gunsmoke. Examples are the Whipple house, as seen in Soldier's Return, and the Nordstrom place, as seen in Town Party – Country Party.
Here is the town towards the end of the show's run. The corral which appeared at this time is to the right (the cast was standing in front of this as they blew up the town). You can also see where the stream that outflows from the waterwheel ends (slightly below center) – it doesn't go anywhere! The viewer was presumably supposed to assume a lake or river that we never saw (somewhere off the top of this picture) fed the waterwheel. In fact, like the Plum Creek, the whole thing was done with pumps.
The "old Edwards' place" (later seen in The Enchanted Cottage) is the structure at bottom-right. The stream which flows from the mill's waterwheel became bigger as the series progressed – here it is much broader than earlier in the show. The only buildings which were added to the town center as we went along were the bank (added in the second season) and Nellie's restaurant/hotel (added in the sixth).
A very early view of the town set. The large grey building in the background is the Feed & Seed (where Almanzo would later work). Its patched-up roof seems to suggest this photo was taken sometime around the filming of A Harvest Of Friends (the first episode to be televised). The water-wheel's stream at this point is very narrow and the whole site looks like it hasn't been irrigated in a while!
The building of the church/school in April/May 1974. The Simi Valley site was rented weekly from June 1974 through January 1983. A different location, in Woodland Hills, was initially chosen for exterior work but neighbors there became concerned about the noise and the production was forced to decamp.
The post office and blacksmith's shop under construction. The Doctor Baker character had his office behind the side door and lived upstairs in one of the rented-out rooms.
Time for a mystery shot. This is an aerial photograph of the town location taken in 2003. The building you see there is on the exact site of the mercantile... but we saw the mercantile blown up in the last episode! This building appears in a 1994 view too and may well have been there earlier. It vanishes after the 2003 wildfire. Did somebody make a replica, as with the cabin (see above)?
Indoor scenes were shot on a soundstage, not generally on location (though there are exceptions with, for example, the location mercantile being used for its interior from time to time). The studio used through to Season Five was the 5555 Melrose Avenue Paramount lot in Hollywood, on the adjoining stages 30 and 31. For Season Six and later, MGM Studios in Culver City (now Sony Pictures Studios) at 10202 West Washington Boulevard was utilized (stage 15).
The cabin was duplicated on the soundstage (i.e. in addition to the outdoor version at Simi Valley). The indoor version was generally used for night-time shots or those with inclement weather (rain, snow etc.) In the former case, this would negate the need for a genuine night shoot (which would mean paying cast and crew extra money). The bad-weather shots, meanwhile, would be considered more controllable when done inside (and you wouldn't get the California sun tearing through to make such scenes look phoney). You can see that the barn was placed much closer to the cabin on the soundstage than at Simi Valley.
Michael Landon, one of the Greenbush twins, Melissa Sue Anderson (back to us) and Karen Grassle shooting an interior scene in the cabin. I am reliably informed this was the same structure as in the two photos above this; it could be "opened up" for shooting (with one wall and part of the roof removed or lifted). Various members of the crew are visible, including the cameraman, assistant cameraman/focus puller and dolly grip to the left, and the director, in the red shirt on the high seat. The Director of Photography wouldn't have been too far away as well.