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This Is Where Little House On The Prairie Was Actually Filmed

Generations of children have grown up on the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who immortalized the pioneer life in the beloved book series that started with "Little House in the Big Woods" and then became a TV sensation with the long-running television show (1974-1982) named after a later book, "Little House on the Prairie." That family-focused series made producer, director, and writer Michael Landon even more famous but also turned some of its young actors — Melissa Gilbert chief among them — into stars of the day. Its wholesomeness was influential, informing shows like "When Calls the Heart," "Dawson's Creek," and even "Raised by Wolves" (via Yahoo! Entertainment) decades after it went off the air. 

Of course, the TV show was a bit more dramatic even than the tales Ingalls WIlder wrote, which were loosely based on her real life. Her books fostered a true sense of time and place, thanks to the fact that she and her family were homesteaders that lived on the edges of civilization in places like Wisconsin (which is where the first book is set), Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota, and Missouri in the late 1800s. 

"Little House on the Prairie" was set in Plum Creek, near Walnut Grove, Minnesota, which is where the real-life author lived from 1874-1876 (per the official website). However, the demands of the entertainment industry in that era didn't necessarily allow for production so far from Hollywood. So, where exactly was this NBC show filmed?

Most exterior shots were filmed at Big Sky Movie Ranch in Simi Valley

California has stood in for many faraway locations in movie history, and "Little House on the Prairie" was no exception. The TV series' exterior shots were filmed in Simi Valley at Big Sky Movie Ranch, which is located at 4927 Bennett Road (via The Cinemaholic). The ranch, located on 7,000 acres in the 30-mile L.A. "studio zone," has been the site of many Hollywood productions, from "Transformers" and "Men in Black" to "Westworld" (via The Simi Valley Acorn). The ranch, now over 40 years old, is part of a storied Hollywood tradition: movie ranches were once the preferred sites for many Westerns and other large-scale productions that weren't so easy to imitate indoors. 

Simi Valley can be a hot place, with temperatures into the 80s and 90s in summer (via Weatherspark). The official "Little House on the Prairie" Twitter page notes that Alison Armgrin, who played Nellie Oleson, passed out on the first day of filming. But "Little House" exteriors were also filmed at a few other locations, including Red Hills Ranch in Sonora, California; Lake Sherwood, California; and Old Tuscon Studios in Tuscon, Arizona (via The Cinemaholic). Interior shots were done at sound stages on the Paramount Studios lot (via Wide Open Country).

Alas, the set no longer exists, thanks to Michael Landon and wildfires

Sadly, the actual buildings and structures that made up Walnut Grove no longer exist. In part that's because Landon, also the show's director, chose to blow up the set for the final TV movie, "The Last Farewell." According to Dave Sundstrom, this was either because the show was required to return the site back to its original condition, or because Landon was angry at the show's cancellation. Actress Melissa Gilbert, who starred as Laura Ingalls, said in her memoir (as reported by CheatSheet) that Landon was furious that no one at NBC had personally told him the fate of the show. "Perceiving disrespect, Mike's temper red-lined. He wanted to destroy all the sets — Walnut Grove, everything in Simi Valley," she wrote. 

The plot of the series' conclusion had a robber-baron buying up the town, and the residents destroying their property rather than see it taken over. Landon told The New York Times at the time, ”I think it makes for a good strong pioneer ending. It was also a nice catharsis for the cast and crew. There were lots of tears when we finally blew up the town. The actors had all become very attached to their own buildings, so it was very emotional.”

Any sets remaining were destroyed in wildfires. A fire in 2003 charred the homestead set (per the Ventura County Star), and The Sacramento Bee reported that what was left of the Ingalls family's prairie abode was lost in to a lightning strike fire in 2019. "It's one of the last props, if not the last props from the set," Ventura County Fire Department spokesman Scott Dettorre said.