GREENFIELD — After years of fundraising and months of labor, the city’s newest event venue is finally open.
People have been calling the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home and Museum office for weeks now, asking when they can reserve a spot at Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen, said Stacey Poe, museum coordinator. Some nonprofits have signed up to host their annual meetings, while a few people scheduled parties.
The nearly 1,000 square-foot building, connected to the Riley Museum on Main Street through a covered breezeway, doubles the size of the converted garage that previously sat in the Hoosier Poet’s back yard in downtown Greenfield. The climate-controlled building, which can seat 50 to 60 people, is a much-needed mid-size venue in the city, Poe said.
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The yellow 1800s carriage-house-style structure boasts a fully equipped kitchen, restrooms, a 75-inch wall-mounted television, WiFi, provided tables and chairs and a wide front porch overlooking gardens.
Construction began on Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen in March, and the venue’s fundraising committee — spearheaded by many members of the Riley Old Home Society nonprofit — raised about $265,000 for the project through grants and private and corporate donations since fundraising began in 2017.
The building, named after a character in several of Riley’s poems, is perfect for lunches, parties, retreats or small weddings, Poe said. One family reserved a date next summer for a graduation party. The Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the Riley homestead, plans to host acrylic art workshops for adults on Sept. 28 and for kids on Oct. 19, Poe said.
The new facility replaces the former “kitchen,” an old 500-square-foot building with one public restroom that was inefficient in size in accommodation. It could only hold about 25 people at six tables, Poe said, and it wasn’t insulated and had to be closed down in the winter because its plumbing otherwise would freeze.
One of the local organizations that scheduled meetings at Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen is the Hancock County Herb Society. Carolyn Swinford, president, said the group plans to meet there often in the warmer months. The Herb Society maintains the grounds, which contains Riley-themed gardens.
Outside of the venue are ADA-compliant sidewalks, curving throughout the backyard park and leading to the front of the museum. The rose garden, aptly named after Riley’s “The Rose,” has remained intact throughout construction. The facility also has a new gazebo; the 12-foot by 20-foot structure is double the size of the former one, which has been relocated to Beckenholdt Park.
Swinford said the Herb Society plans to upgrade the home’s pioneer garden, which showcases herbs that people would’ve grown in the late 1800s, as well as a pixie garden with goblin doors and pixie doors based on two Riley poems: “The Nine Little Goblins” and “The Pixy People.” Workers will also relocate prayer stones from the gardens to several sections inside the new concrete paths, Poe said.
“It’s always been really fun working in the garden and thinking about the ways to tie in the history, and have a nice place where you can go and sit where it’s quiet,” Swinford said.
Gwen Betor, a hostess at the Riley Museum and a member of the Herb Society, said she likes to remind people that the grounds is a public park, where people can see the flowers, herbs and gazebo.
“It’s a wonderful addition, Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen, and the gardens just enhance it,” Betor said.
Poe said in addition to new landscaping, the Riley Museum will be repainted to match the same shade of yellow as that used for Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen.
Ellen Kuker, parks superintendent, said during the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Board meeting in August that the city is tentatively planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the venue during the 50th annual Riley Festival. Poe said she’s also proposed new events for the kitchen during the weekend of the four-day festival, Oct. 3-6; people can also tour the Riley homestead for free those days.
An earlier version of this article had incorrect information regarding a landscape architect that Riley Home officials were initially in talks with to redesign the home’s grounds. We regret the error.