GREENFIELD — As he hung a sign painted by James Whitcomb Riley inside the newly renovated ‘Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen three years ago, Greenfield Parks foreman Josh Gentry knew the new space was going to be a great event venue for the community.
He had no idea just how popular the space would become.
“It’s rented out every weekend now,” said Gentry, who has been overseeing the installation of 13 new parking spaces behind the Riley Boyhood Home & Museum to accommodate the crowds.
As part of the recent improvements, a gravel path winding through the gardens behind the home was replaced with a concrete path and a gazebo was moved to a more picturesque spot beneath a shade tree.
An arbor was recently given a fresh coat of paint by members of the Hancock County Herb Society, which maintains the gardens, including one based on an assortment of Riley poems.
Gentry said the parking and outdoor modifications will enhance what has proven to be a high-demand rental venue.
“We had to make some changes to respond to the demand. It’s a good problem to have,” he said.
‘Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen sits on the backside of the museum, which shares the grounds with Riley’s boyhood home at 250 W. Main St.
Until the parking expansion, guests were required to park along Main Street or North Street, which connects to the venue through an alley and walkway.
The new parking takes up a 20-by-135-foot space, which was created by widening the alley and taking up a minimal amount of green space.
“We made a happy compromise that left as much untouched ground while addressing the issue,” said Gentry, who will help members of Greenfield’s street and parks departments landscape the area this fall.
Replacing the former gravel walking path with a concrete path was also a big improvement for the grounds, said Gentry, making the gardens and gazebo accessible to all as outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The outdoor gardens are open to the public, but can also be rented to provide auxiliary space for events hosted at ‘Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen.
“We’ve had baby showers, wedding showers, birthday parties, retirement parties … you name it,” said Mary Greenan, a hostess at the Riley Boyhood Home & Museum.
“The only problem is there has not been enough places for people to park,” she said, also citing the shortage of parking near the facility where guests can unload food, drinks and other supplies.
Gentry said the recent modifications should go a long way in making ‘Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen one of the most popular small event venues in the city.
Touted as a “pioneer era property with beautiful gardens set in a historic downtown,” the facility features an indoor space that accommodates up to 50 people, with a warming kitchen, audio/visual equipment, covered porch, restrooms, tables and chairs.
The venue can be rented out for $150 a day, or $200 when including the outdoor gazebo and garden area.
“I’m very proud of this facility,” said Gentry, “so I’m glad to see that it’s being so well used and getting the attention it deserves.”
Greenfield Parks director Ellen Kuker said planning for the construction of ‘Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen started back in 2017, with most of 2018 devoted to fundraising.
Construction on the venue took place in the spring of 2019, taking over the footprint left by the previous ‘Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen — a much smaller, unheated space in a detached garage — and connecting the space to the museum.
Since the remodeled venue opened in July 2019, it has been rented out for dozens of events ranging from open houses, receptions, parties and pubic meetings.
“We’ve even had a few weddings and receptions,” said Greenan.
The space is also heavily programmed by the parks department, which uses it to host art exhibits, musical performances, puppet shows and poetry readings.
Kuker said the facility continues to enjoy upward momentum as an event venue as more people find out about it.
“We had 32 rentals in 2019 and 82 rentals in 2020, but most of those in 2020 were ultimately cancelled because of COVID. We had 140 rentals in 2021 and are on pace to hit 140 or more again (this year) through August,” she said.
According to a rental brochure, the venue was named after a ‘Lizabuth Ann character found in Riley’s poetry, supposedly modeled after a real-life person or composite of people who were hired to cook and clean for Riley’s family during his time growing up in Greenfield.