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Restoration of Cather childhood home in Red Cloud, Nebraska, set to begin soon

By: - August 9, 2022 7:42 pm
Willa Cather Childhood Home

Restoration work will soon close the Willa Cather Childhood Home in Red Cloud, which is a National Historic Landmark and a must-visit for Cather fans. (Courtesy Daubman Photography)

LINCOLN — Restoration work will soon begin on the historic home in Red Cloud where Pulitzer Prize-winning author Willa Cather spent most of her teenage years.

Cather had an attic bedroom in the 1 1/2-story, wood-frame vernacular house at 245 N. Cedar St., living there between the ages of 10 and 16. She left for college in 1896.

The 143-year-old childhood home is considered the “crown jewel” of the multiple historic sites in Red Cloud that are associated with Cather. The author mentions the house in at least three of her books: “The Song of the Lark,” “Old Mrs. Harris” and “The Best Years.”

Visitors from across the world

“Visitors from all over the world remark that walking through the doors of Cather’s Childhood Home and into her tiny attic bedroom is an unforgettable experience,” said Ashley Olson, executive director of the National Willa Cather Center.

The nearly $1 million in restoration work is the first in 50 years on the structure. It will begin Aug. 15 and is projected to be completed by next year.

Along with rehabilitating the wooden structure, improving access and adding climate controls, the work will include restoring, and possibly replicating, the rose-colored wallpaper Cather herself installed in her attic bedroom. The paper was payment for her work at a Red Cloud drug store.

“It’s a pretty special place,” said Catherine Pond, marketing coordinator for the Cather Center.

The childhood home has been open for public tours since 1967. The Cather Center took possession of the house in 2019 from History Nebraska. The restoration work is being made possible in part by a $415,000 Save America’s Treasures grant from the National Park Service.

Shovel-ready funds

The project is part of the Cather Center’s ambitious “Campaign for the Future,” which has raised more than $7 million toward restoration of several Cather-related properties. It would also be used for expansion of educational programming, development of visitor amenities and growth of an endowment.

The center was recently awarded a $2.3 million “shovel-ready” grant from the State Legislature, using funds supplied by the American Rescue Plan Act, to help restore a historic hotel in Red Cloud.

The shovel-ready grant, as well as the federal grant to restore the childhood home, require matching, private funds. The Cather Center is seeking to raise another $200,000 in private gifts to help finance the restoration work at the childhood home.

For more information, contact the Cather Center at WillaCather.org.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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