Cappers Farmer Blogs > Old Dog, New Tricks

Overlooked Local Sites

Mary Conley 

Dear friends, 

Have you noticed when on vacation, we are interested in everything, including listening to the tour guide's stories, and reading all the signs, plaques, memorials, and historical markers? But, do we have the same interest locally? How many times have we driven past a historical marker and never once stopped to read it, or taken the time to visit a site that others come from a distance to see?

We live in Nebraska and this week we did something fairly local that was on my bucket list. Our son and his wife, Perry and Kim, came to the farm to help us celebrate Larry's birthday and our anniversary. On Sunday we drove to Red Cloud to visit the Willa Cather Foundation and Memorial Prairie. If you live in Nebraska, I'm sure you've read Cather's "O Pioneer," and possibly "My Antonia" and "The Song of the Lark." But, have you visited her childhood home?

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Memorial Prairie marker

Our favorite part of the trip: The first thing we did was drive five miles south of Red Cloud to the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, which consists of 612 acres of never-been-plowed native prairie. What could be more country? We only read the historical marker and looked at the beautiful, treeless rolling hills of prairie and unbroken horizon, but there are 2 miles of walking and hiking trails. It is also a Nebraska birding site. Knowing this area has been preserved did our hearts good, and I believe you would enjoy reading about how the foundation has removed thousands of non-native and invasive trees in order to preserve native species of plants. After returning home and reading the brochures we were given, we realize that this effort to restore the prairie to its pre-1900 condition and save some species of plants and animals is the part of the trip we are the most excited about. 

Next: It was noon, so we went into Red Cloud and ate at The Palace Restaurant. It was a very nice updated restaurant with good food and good service. 

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We started and ended our three-building tour at the Cather Bookstore. The tour included Willa Cather’s childhood home, The Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank, and the Red Cloud Opera House. There is also a seven-building tour and a country tour. Virtual tours are available online at www.VirtualCather.org.

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This photo of Willa Cather was used for the media during her writing career.  Her book "One of Ours" received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1923.

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Willa Cather’s childhood home. The Cather family lived here from 1884-1904, but Willa only lived in Nebraska for a little over 10 years.

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Hollyhocks and a pump beside the house.

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We always enjoy touring the inside of old homes. This one has many original family possessions. 

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The Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank was erected in 1889 and has since been restored. It displays the original Colorado sandstone frontage and native Red Cloud brick. The tiles framing the door are original. 

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I took this photo of a photo of the bank! Compare to the previous photo. Yes, the old and new match.

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This is an old photo of Red Cloud’s Main street. It reminds me to tell you the Cather Foundation and Nebraska Historical Foundation have restored and continue to restore many of Red Cloud’s buildings. I love it when a small town does that.

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The Red Cloud Opera House was built in 1885 and restored in 2003. It has the original floors, support columns, and wood on the front of the stage. William Jennings Bryan spoke here, Blind Boone performed, and Willa Cather gave her graduation oration in 1890.

We ended the tour back at the bookstore/museum.

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We were on our way home after a pleasant and informative afternoon. Oh! There beside the road just east of Beaver City was another historical marker.  We turned the car around and went back and read it. It was about Nebraska’s first flying doctor and was very interesting. Yes, one should always take the time to read those historical markers!