Willa Cather House, NE

Exterior of a corner house. Photo by Ammodramus CC Public Domain
The Willa Cather House from the northeast.

Photo by Ammodramus. Public Domain (Wikimedia)

Quick Facts

Location:
Corner of 3rd Avenue and Cedar Street, Red Cloud, Nebraska
Significance:
Association with Willa Cather
Designation:
National Historic Landmark
OPEN TO PUBLIC:
Yes

Situated on a corner lot bordered by a white picket fence, the Willa Cather House is a simple, L-shaped one-and-one-half story clapboard structure. It was a rectangular dwelling as originally completed in 1878, but shortly thereafter the northward-projecting rear portion was added, giving the house its present configuration.

Willa Cather captured the spirit of the pioneer era as perhaps no other American author. Her craft has been called local in scope--for she dealt primarily with the West and the Southwest--but national in significance, not only because she chronicled the life and influence of the westward movement, but did so in such a vibrant and gifted way as to preserve a vital aspect of the American spirit. Both her artistry and the content of her works place Willa Cather in the forefront of modern American authors.

In a 1921 interview, Willa Cather stated that the "years from eight to fifteen are the formative period in a writer's life, when he unconsciously gathers basic material. He may acquire a great many interesting and vivid impressions in his mature years, but his thematic material he acquired under fifteen years of age." Virtually all of Willa Cather's fiction reflects the trace of these years in her own youth, and the Red Cloud, Nebraska, home where she lived from the age of eleven until she went away to the state university at seventeen is minutely described in three of her works: The Song of the Lark (1915), and the later short stories "Old Mrs. Harris" and "The Best Years."

In the town of Red Cloud itself, and on the sweeping prairies around it, she discovered the heroic spirit that pervades her works. Personalities and places the author remembered there, impressions and moods gleaned from this girlhood setting, were the raw materials from which such novels as 0 Pioneers! and My Antonia were created. Some time after Willa Cather left Red Cloud, her parents moved to another house.

Each year until their deaths, unless Miss Cather was on an extended trip to Europe, she returned "home" for a month or two in the summer or fall, and often for shorter stays at Christmas. Thus her physical associations with the locale if not directly with her girlhood home continued through most of her life. Her writing was done principally in the East, but the Red Cloud house where Miss Cather lived from 1884 to 1890 remains the single most tangible reminder of the life from which--as Leon Edel has said--she chiseled her work.

The Willa Cather House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on April 16, 1969 (learn more about the National Register of Historic Places). Read the full nomination.

It was designated a National Historic Landmark on November 11, 1971 (learn more about the National Historic Landmarks program).

Last updated: August 28, 2018