Preservation Magazine, Spring 2024

Author Willa Cather's Childhood Home Is Restored and Open for Tours

It was a race to the finish, says executive director Ashley Olson, but The National Willa Cather Center made it. On December 7, 2023, the 150th anniversary of the iconic American author’s birth, Cather’s restored childhood home was reopened to the public.

Cather lived in the 1879 house in the tiny rural town of Red Cloud, Nebraska, from age 10 to 16, and in her later writing she included vivid descriptions of it, including her attic bedroom. The modest one-and-a-half-story residence opened as a museum in 1967 and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1972.

The $1.2 million restoration includes a new roof, a new foundation clad in the original brick, a stronger building envelope for the attic space, and extensive repairs to windows and doors. Visitors can now enjoy an accessible front walk and first-floor entrance, museum-grade lighting, and updated climate control.

Next up, as part of the same project: Conservation is taking place this spring on the original wallpaper still hanging in Cather’s childhood attic bedroom. The paper is being cleaned and, where loose, reattached over a protective acid-free underlayer. Olson and her team hope to reproduce a missing section of the wallpaper in the future.

photo by: The National Willa Cather Center

Sharon Holbrook is a freelance writer who has also written for The New York Times, Washington Post, and other national publications. She lives near Cleveland, Ohio, and is an enthusiastic amateur preservationist.

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