“We’re going to the chapel and we’re going to get married.” So goes the words of the 1964 hit song Chapel of Love recorded by the Dixie Cups. These days, though, I-dos are said almost anywhere, and for the past few years a country wedding is all the rage.
The wedding planning website, The Knot, recently surveyed 14,000 brides, and last year 6 percent of them held their event at a farm and or barn and that trend continued through 2014 and on into 2015.
A timeless symbol of rural culture, families have gathered at barns for dances and harvest festivals and other celebrations for centuries so why not a wedding? That seems to be the thinking of many farm owners in the U.S. who have entered the wedding business in a big way, renovating existing structures or constructing new ones with tons of character and modern amenities. Their motto, “if we build it they will come,” has been correct as more and more couples are flocking to rural American to wed.
“We’ve found that couples love the setting here,” said Norm Stucky who along with his wife, Beth, were one of the first people in the Jefferson City area to enter the wedding business.
In 2002 they renovated and restored their 1920s red barn on their property Mockingbird Farm off Zion Road.
“The barn is authentic and old and people like that and the informality,” Norm said. “Everyone feels comfortable here.”
Couples enjoy the family atmosphere and the flexibility to choose their own caterer and create the atmosphere that reflects their lifestyle, without a lot of the add-on costs of other venues.
“We ask that they don’t use taper candles inside the barn buy that’s really the only rule,” said Beth, who along with Norm pitch in and help in any way they can and open their home up to the couples.
The bride and bridesmaids get ready in their home while the groom and groomsman hang in Norm’s man cave, a separate structure nearby that’s really more of a guest house.
“The majority of couples hold their wedding and reception here because it’s convenient and they don’t have to haul things to two places,” he said.
The Stuckys keep a photo album of the weddings held there, and there’s everything from bare feet and cowboy boots to a Renaissance celebration.
They originally started fixing up the barn for their daughter, Tricia, who wanted her wedding held there. They replaced the floor, built an outside bathroom and added some landscaping touches, and then word of mouth referrals brought more couples seeking them out and soon they were in the wedding business. They don’t hold weddings in August when it’s very hot and humid in Mid-Missouri, but book events from May through October.
Rebecca and Eric Martin held their reception there in June of 2013. She learned of the venue from her mother who had worked with Norm, who retired as head of the fisheries division for the Department of Conservation.
“I envisioned my wedding reception in a barn and once I visited the Stucky’s place I didn’t have to look anywhere else. It was perfect. It really was what I had pictured in my mind,” she said. “It was a beautiful setting but not overdone.”
“The barn really does turn into a magic kingdom at night,” said Norm.
“It does,” adds Beth. “The light inside shines through the cracks and the barn really twinkles.”
During the past several years, there’s been a wealth of venues opening throughout the state, including some here in Mid-Missouri. Wasserlauf Valley in Russellville offers a natural setting and a large open air pavilion with a patio area and a gazebo for the wedding ceremony. The Colonel Lewis Bolton Home has constructed an event center to accommodate larger weddings.
The Weathered Wisdom Barn in the small town of Preston, Mo., has generated a lot of buzz, too. A wedding was held every Saturday in 2014 and and the venue is almost completely booked in 2015.
“We were confident that we would be busy but the business has definitely surpassed our expectations,” said Tamara Wisdom.
Like the Stuckys, the inaugural celebration was her daughter’s wedding.
“When we were searching for a place for our daughter’s reception, we ran into a lot of extra costs and we wanted to avoid that and we really thought we could do it better,” she said.
So they contracted with local Amish carpenters to build a handcrafted, post and beam barn with large beams and windows that overlook seemingly endless pastures. There’s also a full kitchen for caterers and dressing rooms upstairs.
“We give the couples the freedom to use their own caterer and find one in their price range, and we really rent them the space and they’re free to do their own thing,” she said. “It has been a learning process but we try to keep it simple with very few rules.”
One of the newest venues is Blue Bell Farms in Fayette, Mo., owned by Derek and Jamie Bryant.
In Derek Bryant’s family for generations, he and his wife, Jamie, left St. Louis to move there to keep it a viable operation.
“Once I lost my grandparents who lived there we didn’t want to sell the farm so we had to figure out how to make a living from it,” said Bryan, whose background is in commercial instruction, while his wife worked as an interior designer.
“We noticed at the time that farm weddings and barns were popular and we had a historic farm close to Columbia right off the highway,” he said. “We started doing our homework and thought this might be a decent way to go.”
They constructed a honey-hued oak timber barn with whitewashed pine interior walls with a commercial kitchen and outdoor patio and yard space.
“We have only one event per weekend so the couple can set up and decorate and have the place to themselves,” he said. “We are a space only and the couples can put their own stamp on their event.”
Like Katelynn Heimericks who is holding her wedding and reception there in the fall.
“My dream wedding has always been a rustic barn themed wedding,” said Heimericks. “When the time came to choose a venue I knew that Blue Bell Farms was exactly what we wanted. The inside is all wood with wooden beams and I can decorate with lights everywhere. It’s the perfect backdrop to my wedding.”
In Osage County, between Bland and Belle, there’s Prairie Star Restoration Farm, where Bruce and Jan Saffmann restored their 123-acre property into a grassland, woodland and aquatic habitat in collaboration with Department of Conservation. They also restored their 1926 vintage loose hay barn to serve as an education center and then began renting it out for wedding receptions. Since it’s not climate controlled, they book weddings from April through October.
All of these families are learning the ropes about operating their venue and being able to separate the public and private. For the Stuckys, who are both retired, they want to spend more time with their grandchildren and also to travel so they’re downsizing their wedding business.
“We’ve turned down 43 requests for 2015,” said Beth.
Still they have enjoyed celebrating these major life milestones with so many couples and their friends and family.
“We feel very blessed to have this place,” said Norm. “We have enjoyed sharing it with everyone.” n