Willa Cather Childhood Home to Close August 15 for Restoration
The Willa Cather Childhood Home is a national treasure, one of only twenty-two National Historic Landmarks in Nebraska and the site most closely associated with the life and literature of one of America’s greatest novelists. The National Willa Cather Center is excited to announce that the house will close on August 15 to facilitate the first comprehensive restoration in over fifty years. This project is made possible through a Save America’s Treasures grant administered by the National Park Service, which is being matched dollar-for-dollar through a private fundraising effort.
First restored by the National Willa Cather Center (formerly the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial), the site opened to visitors in 1967 and was later gifted to the Nebraska State Historical Society in 1978. The transformative restoration set to begin soon will ensure the 140+-year-old home is preserved as a cultural attraction for the learning and enjoyment of future generations. Projected to reopen in 2023, the restored home will create a more immersive destination to discover family artifacts and encounter the lived world of the Cather family.
A modest one-and-a-half story frame house, the Willa Cather Childhood Home was Cather’s residence between the ages of ten to sixteen. While she moved away from Nebraska in 1896, her parents Charles and Mary Virginia Cather rented the home through 1904. Many of Cather’s best known writings depict life in Red Cloud and Webster County during Cather’s formative years. The Cather house is vividly described in The Song of the Lark, “Old Mrs. Harris,” and “The Best Years.”
The National Willa Cather Center took ownership of the Willa Cather Childhood Home from History Nebraska in 2019 and is committed to preserving and interpreting the landmark site, including the delicate original wallpaper Cather purchased and hung in her attic bedroom as an adolescent. Elements of the restoration will include:
- The addition of accessible walkways and entrance to allow visitation by people of all ages and abilities
- A new climate control system to condition the second floor for the first time, an essential element of collections management
- The addition of new electrical service and non-intrusive museum lighting for safety and enhanced interpretation
- New fire, aspirating smoke, and intrusion alarm systems
- Restoration of windows, doors, trim, and floors
- Repair and replacement of deteriorated fascia boards and clapboards
- Masonry repair of brick chimneys
- New cedar shingle roof, gutters, and downspouts
- Repair of the foundation and reconstruction of window wells
- Retention of plants, trees, and shrubbery that date to the period of the family’s occupancy
- Drainage enhancements, including a trench drain and grading of soil away from the foundation
- Cleaning and restoration of original architectural hardware
- A new historically appropriate fence that was designed based on archival photographs
- Conservation, cleaning, and treatment to readhere the original wallpaper in Willa Cather’s bedroom
The restoration is a key component of the National Willa Cather Center’s Campaign for the Future, which has raised over $7 million for restoration of numerous Cather-related historic properties, expansion of educational programming, development of visitor amenities, and growth of an endowment. During the construction period and leading up to the reopening, visitors are encouraged to explore the exhibits at the National Willa Cather Center and participate in guided town tours of six additional historic properties related to Cather’s life and writing. The Center’s mobile app also offers a 30-minute narrated tour of the Willa Cather Childhood Home.
About the Willa Cather Childhood Home
Opened in 1967 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971, the Willa Cather Childhood Home is the crown jewel of the Willa Cather Historic Sites and the best location to glean a more complete understanding of the daily lives of the Cather family. The wood frame story-and-a-half vernacular house contains many family artifacts including furniture, personal possessions, canned goods, prints and artwork, and family photographs and books. The room of Cather’s maternal grandmother, Rachel Boak, is interpreted as described in "Old Mrs. Harris," while the parlor and attic are reminiscent of descriptions in The Song of the Lark. Cather wallpapered her attic bedroom herself, having taken the wallpaper as pay for her work at a local drug store. The same rose-covered wallpaper is there today.
How You Can Help
We aspire to raise an additional $350,000 for the restoration, wallpaper conservation, and future interpretive enhancements to the interior and site exterior. Please consider supporting the project with a charitable gift. Pledges are payable over a five-year period. Contributions may be mailed to the Willa Cather Foundation, 413 N. Webster St., Red Cloud, NE 68970. Donations may also be made online.
This project is supported by a Save America’s Treasures grant administered by the National Park Service. The NPS, in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), award these matching grants to support the preservation of nationally significant historic properties and collections. The Save America’s Treasures grant uses revenue from federal oil leases for preservation and conservation projects without expending tax dollars and requires a dollar-for-dollar match in non-federal donations.
We’re also grateful to the John K. & Lynne D. Boyer Family Foundation, Anne Thorne Weaver Foundation, Holland Foundation, and an anonymous supporter for their gifts to the restoration effort.