Having a wedding at a cemetery might not be the first place a couple might consider. Business leaders probably have not investigated having a retreat surrounded by headstones. And civic groups may not have thought about organizing monthly meetings in a former stable.
But when the administration of Wyuka Funeral Home and Cemetery decided to renovate the property's old horse stables, the Wyuka Historical Foundation started to consider ways the new space could be used.
“You could have meetings there, you could have daylong retreats there, small receptions -- a variety of things along those lines could be held there in an unusual atmosphere,” said Nancy O’Brien, president of the foundation.
The stables, built in 1909 and on the National Register of Historic Places along with the cemetery, housed horses that transported caskets to the cemetery. Wyuka Cemetery was established by the Nebraska Legislature in 1869 as the Lincoln State Cemetery.
After horses were replaced by motor vehicles, the old stable was used to store maintenance supplies.
A local theater group, Flatwater Shakespeare, was one of the only public entities to use the space.
“It wasn’t until it began being used (by Flatwater Shakespeare) when we thought, how can we use this for more community use?” O’Brien said.
The stable restoration was completed in October. The two main rooms each seat about 60 people.
Wyuka was approved in 2008 for federal funds toward the project, which covered 80 percent of the total cost of $880,000. Wyuka raised money to cover the rest.
“Because they were receiving federal funds, they had to meet quite a high standard in all aspects of the project, including preservation efforts,” said Ed Zimmer, historic preservation planner for Lincoln.
Original brick walls, doors, beams, staircases and exterior windows and exterior stucco walls remain. Doors and trim got fresh coats of barn red paint. New shingles, light fixtures, electrical wiring, heating and air conditioning were added. The most modern touches are the two large flat-screen TVs, a small kitchen and bathrooms.
“They did a lovely job,” Zimmer said about the Omaha architecture firm, Alley and Poyner, that headed the project. “It’s a very functional space. It’s modern, but it maintains the historic elements.”
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From the outside, the new building looks very much like it did when it was built, Zimmer said. The building forms a box around an open courtyard.
Wyuka spent seven years contacting architects, considering bids from contractors and raising money for the project, said Jeff Schumacher, a member of the Wyuka board of trustees.
Construction took six months.
“The whole goal was to preserve the ambiance and the character of the building.” Schumacher said. “We’re excited. The building should last a long time. Hopefully, people will use it 365 days out of the year.”
Schumacher said the board is working on hashing out details like fees to rent the space and putting the information online.
The project was recognized by the Preservation Association of Lincoln in March, which gave its President’s Award to Wyuka for its efforts in funding and renovating the stables.
“I tend to acknowledge people more than projects, because if you don’t have people doing things, they don’t happen,” said Kay Logan-Peters, the former Preservation Association president who chose Wyuka for the award. “The stables are great, and we’re thrilled that they’re done. The building is important in a historical sense.”
But the award is more for the Wyuka Historical Foundation and the Wyuka board of trustees, which both worked for years on the project.
O’Brien, president of the Wyuka Historical Foundation, said it means a lot for the Preservation Association to recognize the work.
“A lot of people put a lot of work into it, and it will benefit the community as well as the cemetery,” O’Brien said. “This award recognizes everyone involved in the process.”
O’Brien said that the most challenging part of the process was raising the money to cover the remaining 20 percent of the costs, but “the community came through.”
“There was quite a bit of educating the donors,” she said. “People don’t think in terms of a historic value to a cemetery.”