Photos by Jamie Alexander
When the historic downtown WeatherBerry home was put up for sale, officials at the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden considered purchasing it with the intent of establishing a welcome center. But with the $575,000 price tag, Garden board members opted to push forward with plans to build a new welcome center and outdoor pavilion.
But when the WeatherBerry owners, Shana and Ed Champion, lowered the price of their home by $100,000, all of the Garden board unanimously agreed to scrap the building plans and make an offer. Since September, the 3,848-square-foot WeatherBerry farmhouse has officially been owned by the Garden.
“This integrates the new with the old,” said WKBG Executive Director Laurna Strehl. “This will bring a bigger presence to the Garden, because we will be visible from Second Street. It really launches us to get us on the map in a bigger way. But it also shows we’re not just talking about growing and changing. This is evidence we are moving in that direction.”
The return of the 1840 home to the Garden is a full circle milestone. Bill and Susie Tyler who donated the original 8 acres for the Garden in 1993, were the former owners of the WeatherBerry, and operated it as a bed and breakfast for 10 years in the early ‘90s. The Tylers actually gave the WeatherBerry its name, derived from its previous owners, the Berry family, who owned the property for 75 years. The Berry patriarch was involved in local weather reporting. Combining those two ideas, the Tylers came up with WeatherBerry.
“The WeatherBerry has a history with the Garden,” Strehl said. “It is coming full circle, which makes this whole story more heartwarming.”
The WeatherBerry, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has been well maintained throughout its history, with a fully-renovated kitchen and ample open space, which Strehl will use for meetings, events and a gift shop. But in changing the home to be zoned as a business, specific modifications must first occur, including making the building accessible, widening the driveway and expanding the parking area.
“I wish I could make it move faster,” Strehl said. “Step one was getting it rezoned. I may have to fundraise before I can make all of the changes.”
The Garden held a Backwoods Brawl bourbon raffle, which brought in $70,000. Strehl said this will allow her to proceed with making the bathroom accessible and adding a ramp to the home. Strehl estimates the asphalt needs for the property will come in around $200,000.
“We are not excited to spend that much money on asphalt,” Strehl said. “I would rather spend that money on a gorgeous statue or some significant new garden. But we understand that that money needs to be spent on the infrastructure.”
Buying the WeatherBerry was a more expensive option than building a new welcome center, but the history and charm the home will bring to the Garden outweighed the extra cost.
“I am always looking at things from a visitor’s perspective,” Strehl said. “I want people to leave there with a strong memory about how wonderful their experience at the Botanical Garden was and having this house as the new entrance — first impressions are everything. And that’s a pretty wonderful first impression.”