Willa Cather Childhood Home Restoration Underway
Make a Gift to Benefit Ongoing Preservation Efforts!
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 site closed on August 15, 2022 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.
Acquired and restored in our early years, the site opened to visitors in 1967 and was gifted to the Nebraska State Historical Society in 1978. The transformative restoration will ensure the 140+-year-old home is preserved as a cultural attraction for the learning and enjoyment of future generations. 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. Major elements of the restoration will include an accessible entrance; new climate control and electrical systems; restoration of windows and doors, new fire and intrusion alarm systems, roof replacement, foundation repair, recreation of the original fence, and conservation of 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 $8 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.
While the initial fundraising goal for this project has been met, contributions will still be needed for ongoing preservation work at the home. Gifts may be mailed to the Willa Cather Foundation, 413 N. Webster St., Red Cloud, NE 68970. Donations may also be made online. For more information, please contact Executive Director, Ashley Olson, at email@example.com.
Your help will ensure the home is preserved for future generations to discover family artifacts and to encounter the lived world of the Cather family.
Efforts to date have included restoration of windows and shutters, installation of a new sawn cedar roof, and new electrical and mechanical systems. Early on, Willa Cather's attic bedroom was encapsulated to prevent construction dust and debris from soiling the original wallpaper. The attic has been insulated; its with knee walls and ceilings are now enclosed with tongue-and-groove siding to match the profile of existing materials and the nailing pattern of missing materials from the attic. The house has been carefully lifted, and the new foundation has been poured. The sturdy new foundation allows for a fully conditioned basement for storage. It will be faced with original brick material to match the appearance during the period the Cather family resided in the home.
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.
Among others, 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.