The one-and-one-half-story, L-shaped house is set on the southwest corner of Third and Cedar Street just blocks from the center of downtown Red Cloud. A typical house of the era, it was the childhood home of the American author Willa Cather. Sitting behind a modest white picket fence, the gable-roofed house was built in 1878 in a vernacular interpretation of the Gothic Revival style. The clapboard structure has a shallow porch and narrow, double-hung windows asymmetrically arranged on the principal facade. The first floor consists of a sitting room and dining room, off a narrow front hall, and three bedrooms. Although successive occupants altered the main floor, it has been restored based on structural investigations and descriptions from Cather’s writings. Those furnishings not directly associated with the Cather occupancy have been selected to represent the late 1880s. Stairs from the kitchen at the house’s rear gives access to Cather’s bedroom on the second floor. Her bedroom still retains the original wallpaper and her beloved iris picture and seashell collection.
Arriving in Nebraska from Virginia in 1883, Cather lived in the house from age eleven to seventeen, when she left to study English at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1894. Upon graduation Cather moved to Pittsburgh and later New York City, where she did most of her writing. During this time, annual visits to her parents’ house rekindled connection with her prairie upbringing. Cather notable works include O Pioneers! (1913), My Ántonia (1918), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning One of Ours (1922) that detailed the life of American pioneers and European immigrants in the Great Plains. The years Cather spent in the house in Red Cloud, and in Webster County, provided formative experiences for her later writings. The house is beautifully described in three of Cather’s works, The Song of the Lark and the short stories “Old Mrs. Harries” and “The Best Years.”
In 1971, the Willa Cather House became a National Historic Landmark. Red Cloud also contains other important sites related to Cather’s life and work, including several residential structures, the Opera House, Farmer’s and Merchant’s Bank Building, and the State Bank Block. The Willa Cather Foundation has an active presence in the community and continues to honor Cather’s legacy through cultural activities and scholarly endeavors.
Gamble, Robert S., “Willa Cather House,” Webster County, Nebraska. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1971. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC.
Cather, Willa. Early Novels and Stories. New York: The Library of America, 1987.