Chasing Maud Hart Lovelace In Mankato, Minnesota

Wanderlust is real. It’s the constant longing to take a road trip. The moment you get back from one, you’re itching for the next. The desire constantly nags and all-consumes. If you can relate, you probably have wanderlust too.

This weekend, I took a miniature road trip to Mankato, Minnesota located about 1.5 hours southwest of the Twin Cities. This was not just a road trip, this was a literary quest.

Growing-up, one of my most treasured books were Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy, Tacy and Tib series. I loved reading about the girls’ adventures and identified with their strong-wills, curiosity, and mischievousness. Author Maud Hart Lovelace was born in Mankato, Minnesota in 1892. The Betsy-Tacy books take place in a fictional town called Deep Valley, however, Lovelace based Deep Valley and the characters on her own life.

The scene I love the most is Betsy, Tacy, and Tib making “Everything Pudding” while Betsy’s parents are away. They throw everything they can find into one pan resulting in an inedible disaster. This inspired culinary experiments with my childhood best friend in which we made everything pancakes at my house and everything bread at hers. My parents threw out our mustard flavored pancakes and insisted we use recipes moving forward. We threw out the everything bread before her parents caught us.

The Betsy-Tacy Society works to preserve Lovelace’s literary legacy. They own and operate the real life childhood homes of Maud Hart Lovelace (Betsy) and Tacy. You can view the outsides of the homes for free like I did or go on a tour by making reservations during the week arriving during Saturday hours (1-4 p.m.). Both the Betsy-Tacy Society and Mankato CVB offer guides for going on your own literary tour.

Here are some highlights:

Betsy’s house is located across the street from Tacy’s.

The Hill Street Bench is located a block up from Betsy and Tacy’s houses on Center Street. This is where Betsy and Tacy met to share stories and eat dinner.

Sumner Hill Road curves up the hill from Betsy and Tacy’s homes. This is what Lovelace described as “the big hill.”

I’ve found that the places I remember from childhood are much smaller than I remembered, such as our old sledding hills and parks. In this case the Big Hill is actually really really big. There’s a neighborhood at the top.

The trees are so thick that you can’t see the city below. In the photo above, you can just make out the white strip of the freeway to the right. It looks like the private properties have really nice views.

Tib’s childhood home is located several blocks away from Betsy and Tacy’s homes. It’s also privately owned. You can learn more about the history and sale in this Mankato Press article.

This is the intersection on the other side of the big hill where Mr. Meacham’s house used to be located in the neighborhood Lovelace called “Little Syria.”

In Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill, the girls trek over the big hill to an immigrant community from Syria. They meet a dignitary named Mr. Meacham and befriend a girl named Naifi. According to this Mankato Press article, Mr. Meacham’s mansion was located at this intersection. In 2009 the owner donated it to the fire department to use as practice fighting a fire. The article notes that the Betsy-Tacy society couldn’t afford to renovate this property.

Mankato Road Trip Refreshments:
No matter how long or short, every road trip needs at least one stop for refreshments. If you’re driving between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Mankato, you’ll pass down the main street of St. Peter soon before you reach Mankato. It’s a bustling college town home to Gustavus Adolphus.

My friend @Katie_LF recommended River Rock Coffee

The coffee shop is very popular. You can find scratch-made baked goods, savory breakfast and lunch items, and a wide variety of beverages. Tumeric milk is one of my favorite caffeine-free drinks. River Rock’s Golden Milk is sweet and spicy. The daily hand pie featured eggs, potatoes and sausage baked in a light, flaky crust.

Visit Mankato recommended Friesen’s Family Bakery & Bistro

Frieden’s features soups + baked goods including giant cookies, muffins, cupcakes and breads and dinner rolls.  I couldn’t resist the “Buy three get one free” muffin special. Each jumbo muffin only costs $1.99. The muffins are fluffy and moist. This weekend, we enjoyed a blueberry and peach muffin.

Have you ever been to Mankato? Feel free to share any thoughts below in the comments section!

Links of Interest:


  1. Katie

    Love this! I read the books briefly as a kid but didn’t get into them as much as my grandparent’s nancy drew set. I’m glad river rock held up, I haven’t been in a few years, but I can’t wait to take some more trips down to st. peter/mankato this fall!

    • Jeni

      Loved Nancy Drew! Are you a Gustavus alum? St. Peter has such a fun main street.

  2. Sdpfeiffy

    Thanks for writing this up! I’ve longed to explore Betsy-Tacy for ages. I’m drafting a bucket list of literary sites to visit.

    • Jeni

      What else is on your list?

      • Sdpfeiffy

        Last summer I was fortunate to visit Concord, Massachusetts and the Alcott home and the cemetery where she is buried. I want to return and spend some more time in Concord! In addition to just being thrilled with seeing where she wrote Little Women, I realized I just want to see more places like that.

        We lived in Laura Ingalls Wilder land for many years, but I’ve always wanted to travel the entire LIW route (basically Highway 14 from Wisconsin to De Smet, SD) as well as New York (where Almanzo grew up) and Missouri, where they landed.

        We have family in Hannibal, MO so I got to see all the Mark Twain stuff.

        At the beginning of this year, we moved to the central coast of California, so I’ll be able to visit some Steinbeck sites.

        I’m also hoping to see Prince Edward Island (LMMontgomery Anne of Green Gables.)

  3. Barbara

    I loved the Betsy-Tacy books when I was a child. I grew up in a small town about 35 miles away, and I remember the elementary school librarian telling me Deep Valley was based on a nearby real town, and right away I guessed Mankato. That same librarian told me I wouldn’t like the later books until I was older, which was why there were in the middle school library and not the elementary school library. I went to the public library and read the next book in the series, and I didn’t like it. The librarian was right, a few years later I devoured the later books in the series.

    I visited the historical museum in Mankato and they had Betsy’s wedding dress on display, I believe that was the only reference to Maud Hart Lovelace in Mankato when I was a child. I’m pleased there is a museum and other sites are now labeled. If I were a child today that road trip would be nirvana!

  4. Kelly

    Nice recap!
    We live in Mankato and have never toured this. When Dusty and I lived/worked at a B & B in town, just down the street from the Betsy-Tacy House, one of the bedrooms was called Betsy-Tacy and it was quite popular with out-of-town guests that traveled to town to see the Museum.
    We love the neighborhood, including the one at the top of the hill!

  5. Josh

    Huh, I’ve never read or even heard of them, but my little sister used to live in Mankato… That coffee shop wasn’t there, yet, when they moved away. It looks amazing though. Happy Travels sister!

    • Jeni

      Happy travels to you too!

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