Handout describing the Farmers & Merchants Bank and donation levels.
Exterior Farmer's and Merchant's Bank

Making a Place: A Long History of Red Cloud

A New Permanent Exhibit for the Farmers & Merchants Bank

As we mark the publication centenary of Willa Cather's A Lost Lady, a new permanent exhibit for the Farmers and Merchants Bank is in development. Making a Place: A Long History of Red Cloud invites visitors to explore the novel's connections to Red Cloud through subjects that are both present and absent in Cather's fiction. The exhibit will explore topics that include Pawnee culture; the lives of Silas and Lyra Garber—in life and as portrayed as Captain and Mrs. Forrester in A Lost Lady; town-making and homesteading; banking and the Panic of 1893; and early preservation efforts led by the National Willa Cather Center's founder, Mildred Bennett.

More About the Project

One of Red Cloud’s most arresting architectural specimens, the Farmers and Merchants Bank was built by Red Cloud’s founder, Silas Garber, who went on to serve two terms as Nebraska’s governor. Cather became acquainted with Lyra and Silas Garber during her childhood in Red Cloud and used them as prototypes for Captain and Mrs. Forrester in A Lost Lady. The bank is used in two of Cather's other writings: the short story "Two Friends," and the novel Lucy Gayheart.

The bank is also the first building owned and operated as a museum by the National Willa Cather Center, known then as the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial. This building is a fitting place to explore the notions of place-making and the history of Red Cloud’s founding, as well as the early days of the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial. For more than sixty years, the WCPM, which has grown and evolved into the National Willa Cather Center today, has worked to preserve the historic fabric of the town that Willa Cather immortalized in her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

This two-story interpretive space will highlight the ideas of building and re-building as guests explore the original bank teller cages, vaults, and offices; view artifacts related to the town’s founding and financing; and discover the origins of the WCPM’s preservation mission, which began—and nearly ended—with the Farmers & Merchants Bank.

Sponsorship Information

Design, fabrication, and installation of the exhibit panels and casework at the Farmers & Merchants Bank will cost approximately $250,000. Names of supporters who contribute $500 or more will be featured on the exhibit's credit panel. Sponsors' logos will be included with donations beginning at the $2,500 level. Credit panel recognition must be finalized by 9/30/23.


Exhibit Sponsor Benefits
  Invitation to the welcome reception. Commemorative exhibit bookmark. Your name on the exhibit credit panel.* 11x17 print of a painting of historic Red Cloud.

Signed copy of Lyra and Silas Garber: A First Couple in Frontier History and in Willa Cather's A Lost Lady by Lonnie Pierson Dunbier.

100th anniversary copy of A Lost Lady.

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*The deadline to have your name included on the credit panel is 9/30/23. Supporters who make a donation of $500 or more after the deadline will be recognized on the mobile app.

More About Our Reinterpretation Strategy

This exhibit is part of a broader reinterpretation project, in which we have tried to foreground two fundamental questions:

  1. Why is this site/object/person important to Red Cloud?
  2. Why is this site/object/person important to the life and writing of Willa Cather?

We hope this two-fold interpretive strategy will ensure that the Farmers and Merchants Bank is as richly and fully explored as local history sites as it is as a Willa Cather historic site. The expansion of our interpretation will help to more fully situate our organization in our local community, as well as attract new visitors to our sites—those who may be interested in architecture, in Nebraska or rural history, in preservation—in addition to those who are solely interested in Cather. Exhibit themes are explored with the inclusion of people of color, immigrants, laborers, and others on the fringe of Cather's world.

Thank You to Our Exhibit Sponsors!

  • Pinnacle Bank and the Dinsdale Family
  • Cooperative Producers, Inc.
  • B. Keith and Norma F. Heuermann Foundation
  • Claire M. Hubbard Foundation
  • Rick and Kay Stahly In Memory of Doris Hunter
  • Susan Parry
  • Jennifer J. Hein
  • Mark Howe
  • Tru-Built Construction
  • Heritage Bank
  • Michael Sirmons
  • Linda and Mark Robison
Pinnacle Bank Logo
CPI Logo