Nebraska January 07, 2018
The Historic Small Town That Every Nebraskan Should Visit At Least Once
You probably already know that Nebraska is home to tons of museums and attractions that speak to our state’s place in American history. But did you realize that there’s an entire town which has been immortalized in books and beautifully preserved for decades?
Red Cloud, in Webster County and just a stone's throw away from the Republican River, is steeped in generations of history.
This is where Pulitzer Prize-winning Nebraska author Willa Cather spent her formative years. This is where she drew her inspiration for her novels that so many of us grew up reading. Six of Cather's novels were set in Nebraska, including
O Pioneers! and My Antonia.
Cather moved here when she was 9 years old and left Nebraska after college, but Red Cloud left an indelible mark on her soul.
The young woman admired the hardy nature and unbreakable spirit of her neighbors. The town was founded a mere 12 years before her family's arrival and it was still largely untamed prairie at the time. She watched these industrious settlers build an entire town. They inspired her so much that she filled entire novels based on their lives.
The town's streets still echo with Cather's timeless words.
The characters who appeared in her books were often based on real residents of Red Cloud and the surrounding areas. Pictured above is Willa Cather's childhood home, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
You can still visit many of the homes, buildings, and other locations that are featured prominently in Cather's novels.
The "Harling House," shown above, was featured in My Antonia. This was the home where her real-life childhood friends, the Miners, grew up.
Visitors to Red Cloud can tour many of the buildings and other places that were significant in Cather's life and in her novels.
This little town is the largest living memorial to an author in the U.S., a distinction that residents are proud of. Seven buildings in Red Cloud are owned by the Nebraska State Historical Society and available for tours. Pictured above is the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, a breathtaking 612-acre area of native prairie that includes walking trails.
The Willa Cather Foundation provides information about and tours of approximately 50 sites related to Cather's life and writing.
You can choose from a variety of tours, each of which offers a slightly different experience. Whether you take a guided or self-guided tour, you'll find the history of this special place to be highly compelling.
for more information on the tours available through the Willa Cather Foundation.
(Pictured above is the lovely Farmers and Merchants Bank, also known as the Garber Bank, which was mentioned in Cather's novel
and the short story "Two Friends.")
Red Cloud's historical charm doesn't end with Ms. Cather.
A large portion of the town's buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. The beautifully preserved architecture is stunning on its own, even if you don't know about the story associated with each building.
(Pictured above is the Red Cloud Opera House.)
Red Cloud's Burlington Depot recalls a time long ago when this was a booming railroad town.
The depot, too, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was carefully restored by the Willa Cather Foundation and is now maintained by the Nebraska State Historical Society. The depot was an important part of pioneer life.
Historical markers all throughout the town and surrounding areas illustrate the rich history of the area.
This one gives a brief history of Red Cloud's early days, including the source of the town's unique name: an Oglala Sioux chief.
Buildings and other structures and spaces of historical significance abound, not only in Red Cloud but throughout Webster County.
This bridge over the Republican River was built in 1935 and has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Nearby in the near-ghost town of Cowles are the remains of the park where famed pitcher Cy Young played some of his first baseball games.
The nearby Starke Round Barn is the largest of its kind in the world.
This fascinating bit of historical architecture is truly a sight to behold. Events are often held here, and you can even tour the barn with advance arrangements.
for our previous feature on this unique building.
Red Cloud calls itself "America's Most Famous Small Town" for its ties to Cather's writing.
But the town is so much more than the childhood home of the beloved author. Its residents honor the past as they cherish the present and look forward to the future. They worked very hard to preserve the unique history of the place and make it into a true tourist destination. This is a very special community, which is apparent from the moment you step foot in Red Cloud.
The attractions listed here are only a small portion of the fascinating historical sites peppered through Red Cloud and Webster County. For more information on the many other attractions that will make your visit in Red Cloud one to remember, check out the
town’s website. When you decide to go, you’ll want to set aside at least an entire day, or more if possible. This really is one of the most interesting little towns you’ll ever visit.
If you can’t get enough of Nebraska’s charming small towns, take a look at
some of the oldest towns in the whole state.