Red Cloud is an Historic Treasure…and a Treat For The Eyes
Gracious homes, buildings and more remind visitors of Nebraska heritage
Red Cloud’s place is unique in American and Nebraska history. Celebrated author, Willa Cather’s best-known work, My Antonia, was inspired by the town, the land and the hardy pioneers in Webster County. Cather lived in rural Webster County and the town of Red Cloud until she left in 1890 to attend the University of Nebraska. Red Cloud’s strong literary heritage is juxtaposed with a hunting and farming culture, a theme woven into many of her stories.
Red Cloud, a town plotted on a railroad line bordering the Republican River was founded in 1871 and named in honor of Chief Red Cloud, a Lakota Chief whose character and leadership were acclaimed during the late 1800s.
The Burlington and Missouri River Railway reached Red Cloud in 1879, accelerating immigration from the east and abroad. The railroad brought people with vision who built elaborate buildings and gracious homes reminiscent of dwellings in cities east of the frontier.
A feeling for the past
The architecture in Red Cloud neighborhoods evokes a sense of place. The National Register of Historic Places selected numerous sites in Webster County as historic districts, highlighting houses from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when most houses in the Red Cloud historic districts were built.
The preservation of the historic character of Red Cloud not only helps the town maintain a sense of its past, but also gives support to the long-term economic viability of the community. The three residential historic districts and the Main Street Historic District, along with other individually-designated sites in and around town, comprise the Willa Cather Thematic District, which is the largest collection of designated historic sites related to any American literary figure. U.S. and world travelers come to Red Cloud to see these sites and to experience life in an ideal American small town.
Willa Cather Foundation keeps flame alive
The Willa Cather Foundation, founded by Mildred Bennett in 1955, started small with a mission to promote the life, times, sites and works of Willa Cather. Born into a Virginia family who homesteaded in Nebraska, Cather arrived in Webster County at the age of nine in 1883.
“Today the foundation maintains eleven historical sites and a 612-acre native prairie that relate to Willa Cather’s life her writings,” says Ashley Olson, Executive Director of the Willa Cather Foundation. “Currently underway is a total restoration of the “Moon Block,” an 1886 two-story structure in the Red Cloud city center.” The “Moon Block” will house the National Willa Cather Center, a public museum, archive, and arts and cultural center. The facility also provides almost 20,000 square feet of space for a research center, classroom, expanded bookstore and art gallery, dressing rooms and backstage facilities for the Red Cloud Opera House, street-level retail space, and three residences to house visitors.
The Willa Cather Foundation organizes an annual spring festival and a biennial international seminar. “People come from all over the world to explore sites important to Cather, take part in cultural programs, or research our collection of papers, letters, photos, and other items that relate to Willa Cather,” says Olson. “Annually upwards of 8,000 people visit Red Cloud to experience and research the Cather heritage.”
The Willa Cather Foundation’s Red Cloud Opera House, built in 1885, brings speakers, artists, concerts, and theater performances to the community on a regular basis . The Foundation staff of 15 fulltime and part time people plus over 60 volunteers manage the programs and lead the tours.
Red Cloud schools a source of pride
“Academically Red Cloud students do well in state assessments and are awarded exemplary commendations in grades 4th, 8th, and 11th testing,” say sBrian Hof, Red Cloud School Superintendent. “The school district is growing because we offer an excellent education, and the student/teacher ratio is approximately eight students per instructor.”
Team sports include football, volley ball, girls and boy’s basketball, wrestling, golf and track teams. Leadership skills are conveyed in school clubs and other extra-curricular activities. Students participate in one-act plays, speech classes, band and chorus. Music is taught K-12.
“Red Cloud students achieve excellent ACT scores,” says Hof. “Our graduation rate is over 95% of students and nearly all go on to further their education.”
A community fishing pond, an addition to the hospital, updated sewage system, fresh paint on storefronts, and an attractive new community center are among the recent improvements to the community. Red Cloud claims a progressive reputation, and leaders work together to continually improve the community and the economy.
Red Cloud Economic Development and Tourism
Red Cloud is a community with a growing economy where people respect and preserve their heritage and appreciate access to opportunities for life-long learning and a diverse recreational and cultural landscape. “Our strong community and the many activities we sponsor compliments our quality of life,” said Jarrod McCartney, who returned to the community in 2015 as its Heritage Tourism Development Director . ”Residents take pride in and have a positive attitude about our hometown.”
While significant heritage tourism development has occurred, Red Cloud is working toward smart and aggressive investment in heritage tourism to significantly increase the economic and cultural impact on the community. “Red Cloud’s unique sense of place provides a remarkable development opportunity for transformative community change,” McCartney says. “ Red Cloud was home to novelist Willa Cather and being “the most famous little town in America,” has significant heritage tourism assets and opportunities .”
The community of Red Cloud, including the Red Cloud Community Foundation Fund, the Willa Cather Foundation, the area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Red Cloud and others have committed to developing Red Cloud’s heritage tourism sector. These groups have formed the Heritage Tourism Development Advisory Committee to assist and implement a heritage tourism action plan. McCartney leads these efforts as its Heritage Tourism Development Director.
Recent studies of the potential for economic development in Red Cloud have resulted in the experts conducting those studies being very optimistic that significant economic impact can be generated if Red Cloud develops the right combination of services, amenities and accommodations. Prospective business owners are encouraged to contact Jarrod McCartney, Heritage Tourism Development Director, at 402-746-3238 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about opportunities and incentives for business start-ups or expansions.
Great healthcare not just in big cities
Webster County Community Hospital employs 38 health professionals serving the health care needs of Webster County citizens. The hospital provides sixteen acute-care beds, emergency medicine, physical therapy, and features a full lab, x-ray facilities and even a CT scanner.
The physicians bring a wide range of specialties, including cardiology, urology, ENT and general surgery to the hospital and clinic.
When voters in Nebraska approved a bond issue to improve rural health care services, the county added a $2.9 million addition to the hospital to provide outpatient services and same-day surgery among other things.
Ambulance services are available in Red Cloud, and the nearby communities of Blue Hill Guide Rock and Bladen, and a handi-bus provides transportation for Red Cloud residents upon request.
Amenities help town attract new residents
The Red Cloud Golf Course is considered among the top golf clubs in the state. Green rolling hills, scenic vistas of the Republican River Valley, a challenging course and courteous, hospitable club members attract golfers and draw them back. A round of golf including golf cart rental is less than $25, which is one reason the affordable Red Cloud course hosts eight popular tournaments every summer.
The Red Cloud airport with 3,700 x 60 foot runways accommodates small planes all the way up to corporate jets. The airport provides everything a pilot looks for, including well maintained runways, good approach, T-hangars for 12 planes, a corporate jet hangar, fuel, tie downs and an aircraft mechanic nearby.
Great Plains Communication provides internet access to Red Cloud and the surrounding region via fiber optic fed telephone lines. Headquartered in nearby Blair, Great Plains provides telephone, cable television, Internet and long distance telephone service to rural Nebraska communities. The service is family-owned for four generations.
“A Life that matters”
To live a life that matters is central to Willa Cather’s novels. In today’s time, the Red Cloud community continues to provide residents ingredients with which to create fulfillment.
Norman A. Pierce, writer, artist and historian writes about living in Red Cloud, “We can encourage others to come here and make their homes. Our weather is ideal the year round with just enough change from time to time to stimulate the senses. Crime is non-existent, and everyone lives in peace with their neighbors. Our sun is warm, the air and water are pure, smog and foul air are almost unknown.”