Betsy-Tacy Houses Enchant Even Grown Up Girls: Guest Post
Maybe it was the relatively limited selection in my small hometown’s public library, my voracious reading appetite, or a connection I felt to the heroine, but I was arguably the biggest fan of the ten-book Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace in my hometown during my childhood.
How do I know? Because back then, you checked out a book by writing your name on a card for the library to keep on file until you returned the book, at which time the card was reinserted into the pocket on the inside front cover. I could see that my name was written several times on the card of each of the books in that series, with scarcely another name to be found.
I didn’t realize when I was reading (and rereading) the books as a child that they were based on a true story of the author’s friendship with her neighbor across the street. Nor did I know that the families lived in Mankato, Minnesota.
What mattered to me was that I found inspiration and, in a way, companionship, in the stories of a couple of neighbor girls who quickly bonded and made many memories together throughout their lives. While Lovelace fictionalized some of their adventures in the books, many were an accurate retelling of her childhood adventures with her best friend.
Since I learned that the characters of Betsy Ray (Maud Hart) and Tacy Kelly (Frances Kenney) were based on a real-life friendship in Deep Valley (Mankato), I’ve planned to visit the sites of those girls’ childhood adventures. This summer, I finally took my daughters to Deep Valley to see the homes of the girls I knew so well as a child.
It was a gray, drizzly Saturday morning as we drove south from Minneapolis to Mankato. The homes would open at noon and we planned to have a picnic lunch before we took a guided tour of both homes. As we neared our destination, we found that the road near the houses was torn up. Not being familiar with the area, I parked a couple blocks away and walked with my daughters Zara, 4, and Milla, 2, up to Tacy’s white house on the corner. We were all excited to see where the girls lived and played, and the ladies who welcomed us onto the front porch of Tacy’s white house were pleased to see my girls, wearing their cute little dresses and big smiles.
We sat on the porch and opened our lunchboxes, though we had a hard time thinking about lunch. After finishing lunch in record time for a couple preschoolers, we walked into the front entry of Tacy’s house. Tacy’s house was bought by the Betsy-Tacy Society in the early 1990s, before the group had an opportunity to buy Betsy’s yellow house across the street. So, the main desk, gift shop and starting point for tours are all in Tacy’s house. The first thing my daughters found was the candy for sale in the kitchen. They each got a piece to keep them occupied during the tour of the two homes, which I correctly predicted, would be more enjoyable for me than for them.
The tour started in the parlor, with the tour guide pointing out several items of interest that had belonged to the Kenney and Hart families. There was Maud’s first typewriter, the glass jars that the girls used to sell their colored sand to neighbors (yes, the girls really did it), a sewing table and many photos of the people that Lovelace included in her books (with changed names).
The parents of Frances (Bick) had their bedroom on the main level between the kitchen and parlor. Our guide noted that the bedroom had no door. The nine children shared two bedrooms upstairs. We were not allowed upstairs, but I imagine those children would have been cramped in the two rooms.
We headed across the street to Betsy’s house and went in the back door that opened to the kitchen. Our guide took us to the dining room, showed us the corner cabinet, original to the house, and told us about Betsy’s 10th birthday, illustrated in the drawing on the table. I could nearly see Betsy and Tacy playing paper dolls in that parlor, with Julia practicing her piano in the background.
We walked through the parents’ bedroom, displayed with nightgowns from the era. The guide told us that the wallpaper on the walls was restored to the original design. The paint on the walls also matched the paint used in the house when the Harts lived there. The girls’ rooms were upstairs, but we weren’t able to see that level.
We circled back to the kitchen, where we noticed the old-fashioned sink trough – no running water in their day – and the coal stove. The wall sconces were originally lit by kerosene.
I felt like a child again when the tour guide would talk about a story from one of the books and ask the young girls in our tour group whether they remembered it. I would smile and nod along with them, remembering fondly the adventures that Betsy, Tacy and Tib concocted for themselves.
Even today, I know of very few friends who have ever read these incredible books. I’ve started reading them to Zara at bedtime, and have given the first couple in the series as gifts to some friends’ children to give them a chance to experience firsthand the journey that these delightful girls took from age five through adulthood. How wonderful the world would be if we all had a best friend who delivered such faithful and enjoyable companionship throughout life as Maud Hart Lovelace and Bick Kenney did.
Betsy & Tacy’s House Tours & Gift Shop
332 and 333 Center Street, Mankato, Minnesota
Open March-December, every Saturday from 12:00 noon – 3:00 p.m.
Tours: 12:30, 1:00, 1:30, 2:00, and 2:30 p.m.
Admission: $3 Adults; $1 Children ages 6-16 (age 5 and under are free).
Jennifer Bertram currently works full time at home with her young
daughters, Zara and Milla. She has a Masters in Social Work from the
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and a Bachelors of Social Work from
Creighton University. She lives in Minneapolis.
She writes her own blog about an ambitious house project at http://bertramsbluehouse.blogspot.com/.
Learn more about her interests at http://pinterest.com/jenn_a_bertram/.