Reinterpreting the Burlington Depot

A new permanent exhibit

“The station platform was soon full of restless young people, glancing up the track, looking at their watches, as if they could not endure their own town a moment longer.”    –Lucy Gayheart

Exterior of the Burlington Depot with new concrete pathway.

The Burlington Depot has undergone significant improvements. In recent years, windows and doors have been restored, and siding that matches the original historic profile has been installed. Relocation of new mechanical equipment will allow for additional exhibit space. Original bricks from the station platform have been reinstalled. The original two-story section of the depot, constructed in 1897, is the building Cather was familiar with during her last years in Red Cloud. Cather uses the depot as a setting in many of her works, like My Ántonia, “The Sculptor’s Funeral,” Lucy Gayheart, and an early play, “The West Bound Train.”

Now that restoration is complete, attention turns to reinterpretation, as the Burlington Depot functions as the crucial backdrop to telling the story of Willa Cather’s initial encounters with the Nebraska frontier and its varied people. The history of the railroad and its role in the settlement of the Plains invites the inclusion of multiple languages (both visually and through the use of audible soundtracks), vivid graphic elements that appeal and are accessible to a broad family audience, and experiential interpretive opportunities for student and family groups through the use of non-artifact tactile tools, props, and papers.

More About the Project

Floorplan for the exhibit space at the Burlington Depot

Key themes of the exhibit will include:

  1. Railroad as vehicle for both people and ideas
    1. Immigration/colonization
    2. Entertainment and culture
    3. Technology and communication
  2. Railroad as setting for Cather's works
    1. Homecoming/leave-taking
    2. Symbolic of triumph over frontier
    3. "Night Express," Burlington Route," many others
  3. Railroad history/Red Cloud settlement history


Design, fabrication, and installation of the exhibit panels and casework at the Burlington Depot will cost approximately $250,000. Names of supporters who contribute $1,000 or more will be featured on the exhibit's credit panel. Sponsors' logos will be included with donations beginning at the $2,500 level.

Exhibit Sponsor Benefits
  Invitation to the welcome reception Commemorative exhibit bookmark


Luggage tag set featuring the Burlington Depot

Your name on the exhibit panel

11x17 print of Cassia Kite's The Burlington Depot (thread on canvas).

100th anniversary copy of My Ántonia.


$2,500 X X X X X  
$1,000 X X X X    
$500 X X X      
$250 X X        
$100 X          


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.