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WALTON -- It would have been great if the folks from "This Old House" could have helped remodel the Leavitt House.

Bruce and Maureen Stahr, who bought the historic building and moved it from 70th and O streets to the Walton area, asked, but producers of the popular fix-it-up TV series said no thanks.

Who could blame them?

The house, built in 1911 by Lincoln-area farmer and teacher Burt W. Leavitt, was an empty shell when the Stahrs bought it in 2003. The three-story structure sat neglected on the Veterans Administration Hospital grounds for more than 20 years and had been plundered by vandals and thieves.

"When we saw this home it was pretty much ready for the landfill," Bruce Stahr said. "We thought it deserved another chance."

Seven years later, he stands next to a restored 1873 Steinway grand piano inside the house, which the couple painstakingly restored into the Prairie Creek Inn Bed and Breakfast.

"All of our family loves music. I fully feel that this house smiles when there is music ... being made in the house," Bruce Stahr said.

They opened July 1, but many people already have seen what the Stahrs have accomplished through tours, weddings, birthday gatherings, family reunions and other special events. An open house to show off progress and raise money was held in 2006.

Nearly 4,000 people showed up to watch workers move the 160-ton, gray stone behemoth 11 miles in two days back in 2003. Braced with iron beams to prevent the walls from collapsing, the house averaged 1 mph.

Once it was on its new foundation on a 100-acre farm the Stahrs bought 32 days before the move, the real work began. They redid the electrical, plumbing and mechanical insides of the house; installed energy-efficient windows, central air, wood floors, stone tiles and antique woodwork; and blew urethane insulation into the walls.

To make the six guest bedrooms more accessible, they installed an elevator, and state fire codes required an indoor sprinkler system.

"They call this new construction even though it's 99 years old," Bruce Stahr said, referring to the sprinkler requirement.

They expanded the original kitchen for catering, added a garage and decorated with period fixtures and furniture. Some pieces they bought. Others were donated by family, friends and strangers -- like the elderly couple who gave them a classic claw-foot bathtub.

"He thought we were doing good work and thought we had to have it," said Bruce Stahr, who drives for UPS.

The bathtub's original fixtures were rechromed in Omaha and are waiting to be picked up when the couple has the money. That's how they have approached the project: a little at a time as money allows.

They're waiting to put tile in the basement, which has an overhead projector screen, but they don't have the $1,000 right now. Decorated in an L.L.Bean style, the basement features massive beams from a barn destroyed in the 2004 Hallam tornado.

"I think it's very impressive -- their energy, persistence and vision. They're all outstanding," said Ed Zimmer, historic preservation planner for Lincoln. "They've been very, very thoughtful with the historical character."

Bruce Stahr, 51, is reluctant to talk about how much the entire project cost, saying only, "We've invested our whole lives in this place."

Maureen Stahr, who works as a school nurse, said raising the money has been more difficult than the actual work.

"The constant financial strain is the big issue. It's daily," she said.

The project has been tough on their sons Carsten, Adam and Lukas -- and other family members who helped out over the years, Bruce Stahr said.

"This place is a reflection of God's faithfulness. He's faithful to us and we don't deserve it. None of us deserve the blessings we get in life. This house probably didn't deserve a second chance, but we chose to give it one," he said.

Said Maureen Stahr: "It's been a long and very involved process. The need to have perseverance and patience has been the surmounting drive for both of us and the will to keep pressing on for completion. This is Bruce's vision. I didn't have that vision, so it's been very hard."

Still, she said, she has no regrets. The project was a great learning experience for their sons, she said.

"This is such a representative icon of Lincoln. Everybody who used to live in Lincoln knew about it, either positively or negatively. What we've done ... is try to give back to Lincoln in a way they can have access to it," Maureen Stahr said, urging people to come out and take a look.

It would take pages to describe all of the work the couple has done -- and is still doing. A carriage house, which will sleep eight, is being completed, and a lakeside cabin is in the works. They also have plans to remodel a big barn for dances and other gatherings.

"I think we will be done sometime in the next 15 years," Bruce Stahr said.

Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.

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