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It’s Not (too) Unusual

Five delightfully different wedding venues.

Henricus Historical Park
Henricus Historical Park’s options for wedding and reception sites include a reproduction of the town’s original Anglican church, a tent overlooking the James River, a re-creation of the New World's first hospital and a tavern.
By Melissa Scott Sinclair

Banquet halls and country clubs: Ho-hum. A red barn, an art gallery or a Colonial-era church? Pin-worthy.

Personalized, creative ceremonies and receptions are the biggest trend in weddings right now, says Meghan Ely, a local wedding industry expert and owner of OFD Consulting. “It’s the total opposite of keeping up with the Joneses.”

However, there are a few perils associated with hosting an unconventional wedding:

One: Making the wedding uniquely your own doesn’t mean DIY is the way to go. Couples who try to do everything themselves, from decorations to flower arrangements, often become overwhelmed. It’s wise to hire a wedding planner who has worked with your chosen venue, Ely says.

And two: “That uncomfortable conversation” about budget must happen at the beginning, Ely says. Couples who choose rustic wedding venues sometimes fail to look at the big picture when they’re calculating expenses. If you get married at the family farm, for instance, “you have to rent everything down to the teaspoons.” Ask the venue what’s included, she advises, and factor in the cost of renting tents, tables, a dance floor, even portable toilets. Also, ask about the rules: Tea lights and straw bales may not mix.

1. Henricus Historical Park
251 Henricus Park Road
Chester, 23836

This living-history museum in Chester is the site of the second successful English settlement in the New World as well as the place where Pocahontas met John Rolfe. In December, the park finished building a reproduction of the town’s original Anglican church. Framed in rough-hewn timber and illuminated by iron chandeliers made by the resident blacksmith, the church seats about 100 and rents for $1,000. “It’s absolutely gorgeous and unique,” says Chris Duball, assistant to the executive director.

Reception sites include a tent on the bluff overlooking the James River ($750); Mount Malady, a re-creation of the New World’s first hospital ($750; despite the name, it’s very charming); or the Ordinary tavern ($500). Couples can also rent the entire park – complete with costumed interpreters – for $5,000.

Seven Springs
The historic Seven Springs in King William County just started offering wedding packages this year and, according to co-owner Brett Hunnicutt, there is an open calendar in the fall.

2. Seven Springs
6831 Dabneys Mill Road
Manquin, 23106

If you’ve ever dreamed of waking to birdsong on your own private sheep farm, Seven Springs is the place to live that dream. A meticulously restored 1700s estate, the appeal of this venue isn’t just its history (George Washington is said to have stopped by occasionally) but the chance to have the whole place to yourself for the weekend. The property sleeps 20, so the bridal party can arrive Friday to rehearse and celebrate before waking up late Saturday to prepare for the wedding. Overnight prices average $125 per guest at Seven Springs, and camping is also permitted. You can rent the farm for just the day, too – rates run around $6,500 in the prime season. Seven Springs only began offering weddings this year, so “we have an open calendar in the fall – I guarantee you no one else has that,” says co-owner Brett Hunnicutt. And the heirloom Hog Island sheep that reside at Seven Springs are more than willing to be in your photographs, he says. “They love it.”

3. Art Works
320 Hull St.
Richmond, 23224

With art-covered walls, couples don’t have to worry about decorating, but they have a blank canvas to do as they wish: “We’re creative people, so we encourage ideas,” says Jessie Boyland, assistant director at Art Works gallery in Manchester. Sometimes couples hire artists to paint watercolor studies of the reception. Or they may find the perfect painting to serve as a backdrop for their wedding photos. In 2009, Boyland and her husband were married in front of a large mixed-media piece titled “Happy Families.” Art Works has two reception spaces: a large event hall that holds up to 250 people and a smaller gallery for 75-100 people. Prices range from $800-$2,900, and Boyland recommends booking a year in advance, although last-minute requests may be accommodated.

4. Adams International School
1655 Broad Street Road
Maidens, 23102

On 131 acres in rural Goochland County is the Adams International School, a Montessori school for children ages 3 to 15. The school is also an award-winning wedding venue, where the students help with marketing, answering phones, booking weddings and giving tours to couples. “It’s an unlikely marriage, but it really, really works,” says Tamra Adams, the school’s founder and director.

The school is an ideal venue for DIYers and free spirits. Couples have the run of the place; they can get married by the old silo, in the red dairy barn or even in the giant sandbox. Chickens and rabbits will gladly make an appearance. There are two unique requirements, however. One, the couple is responsible for cleaning up afterward. Two, they are asked to give a gift of their choice (such as a bench or a tree) to the school. Rates are $3,500 for dates in 2015 and $3,750 for 2016. The on-site guesthouse is extra. Adams suggests booking 15 to 18 months in advance; the most popular months are October and May.

5. Amber Grove
16216 Genito Road
Moseley, 23120

Although steps away from suburbia, Amber Grove feels like a secluded retreat. “It’s like a slice of the way things used to be,” says owner John McBride, right on the edge of modern Chesterfield. The 1850s farm is the kind of place where some brides wear cowboy boots under their white dresses. “They love the swing. They love the barn,” McBride says. “Frankly, they seem to love me.” McBride, who lives on the estate, personally helps couples plan the details of their special day. “People can do just about anything they want to here,” he says. Ceremonies may be held at the gazebo, in the 1920s dairy barn or on the tent-covered patio. The venue holds 200 people maximum, and rentals cost $3,500 to $5,000. McBride recommends booking nine months to a year in advance.