September 24, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

In 1914, the stately home at 6129 Florence Blvd. was brand new. Built by Laura D. and Edward Cackley, owner of Cackley Bros. wine and liquor house, it was a Prairie Style home for its time, brick-walled, hipped-roofed and tucked alongside what was known at the time as the
Prettiest Mile in Omaha.

The home changed hands frequently over the years, and by 1935 it was the home of U.S. Senator Edward R. Burke.

By 2010, 6129 Florence Blvd. wasn’t quite so brand new.

“When I drove up to it,” says Thomas Wood, “I looked at the listing and thought, ‘Is this the right address?’ The front door was a slab. There was no heating or air-conditioning. The plumbing was shot. A lot had to be done. Everything had to be done.”

So Wood bought it.

“It had Thom Wood written all over it,” he adds.

In July that year, Wood’s 18-year-old son, Eddie, was killed in Afghanistan. Eddie had been home on leave in June; Wood went with him to the airport on June 30. On July 5, U.S. Army officials came to Wood’s door with the news.

A former contractor, Wood was an auto dealer at the time. He’d been living in an apartment and had been considering buying a condo. He’d restored old homes in the past and swore he’d never do it again—he’d sold his tools to prove it.

But Eddie is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in North Omaha, and Wood wanted to be close. The home seemed like a project he could “kind of do on the side,” something he’d work on for six months or a year as a way to clear his head.

The day after he bought the house, Wood started working on the garage and roof, which had both collapsed. Later, snow and ice were blowing in through the house’s 60 windows. It took a couple of weeks to get the heat up and running. Wood “just kind of camped out” inside.

He gutted whole parts of 6129 Florence Blvd. He restored it from the inside out.

Today, the house’s floor plan is the same as it was 100 years ago. The entryway offers two doors—one to the family living area and one to a business office, where Edward Cackley probably met with clients and where Wood does his own office work today. The oak molding in the office—which had been walled off when Wood bought the house—was gone, and was also missing in places in the front family room. Wood rebuilt it. The pale wood floor, which Wood was once advised to replace entirely, is mostly original.

He preserved a large mantle in the front room and a built-in sideboard in the dining room as well as built-in shelves in the sunroom, some of which he moved into the office. A three-season porch off the dining room—still as it was when Wood bought the house—lets in ample light.

In the kitchen, Wood created new built-in cabinets with sides that extend from the walls, offering the illusion of individual pieces of furniture. Though the decor throughout the house is largely traditional, there are transitional touches—a stuffed chair in the sunroom, where Wood spends a lot of his time, is one. An eclectic mix of art and an oversized clock on the black-painted walls in the front room feels like another such touch.

Upstairs is the master bedroom, Wood’s daughter’s bedroom, his second son’s bedroom, the master bath and a sewing room. Wood, a longtime historical reenactor, makes period clothing—for himself, his daughter (who sometimes joins him for reenactments) and for other enthusiasts. He portrays Col. Henry Leavenworth at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park.

“In Omaha,” he adds, “people tend to think a house is something you buy and then use it up and get rid of it. But if it’s taken care of and fixed, it can last indefinitely. You’ve got to stick with it.”

As for Wood, he’s sticking with 6129 Florence Blvd.

“I like it here,” he says. “The front door is squeaky. But a dog has to have some fleas to be reminded it’s a dog. An old house has to have squeaky doors. But it’s a solid thing.”

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