The great venue search (part one)

14 September 2011

Friends! Would you like to hear about how we chose our reception venue? It was quite the adventure, and we looked at many different spots, so I think you might find it interesting. (And, if you’re planning a wedding in Connecticut, potentially helpful!)

A little back story:

The only thing I ever really knew I wanted for my someday future wedding was that I wanted it to take place in Connecticut (where both John and I grew up), and I wanted it to take place in September. September is my absolute favorite month in New England. Since we got engaged in June, I figured we would have our pick of dates and venues. Fourteen months out? No problem.

WELL. That didn’t exactly turn out to be true.

But let’s back up again. When we began our venue search, we had three priorities. We wanted it to be:

1) Scenic, by the water, and able to be tented.
2) Hands off. I wanted freedom, and I didn’t want a lot of regulations holding us back, or required vendors to constrain us.
3) Not terribly expensive. Since we were tenting, I didn’t want to pay a ton just to get a pretty piece of land when I knew the costs would add up to build the infrastructure around the site.

I know, I know, it was kind of a lot to ask. But we had high hopes! The venues we considered can generally be broken into those that are on the beaten path (ones with which most Connecticut residents would be familiar) and those that are not. Today, I’ll walk you through the more common venues we considered.

The Eolia Mansion at Harkness State Park in Waterford

We never actually seriously considered Harkness, since John’s sister Marget will be getting married there two months before us (exciting!!). Even if we had wanted to consider Harkness, we would have had to opt for a Friday or Sunday weekend — yes, with 14 months to go, every Saturday in September was booked, plus all the Saturdays in the summer and all but one in October. Wow! I still love Harkness, though — I think it’s an incredibly beautiful spot, and I am very glad I will get to celebrate there next summer!

The Branford House at Avery Point in Groton

The Branford House is pretty similar to Harkness, except without the formal gardens and with better water views. I always preferred Harkness; John always preferred the Branford House, so it was no surprise that we checked it out next. Unfortunately, they also had NO remaining Saturdays in September, though they did have two in October (not interested). The fee they quoted us was $4,000 for the ballroom + $1,000 extra for the privilege of tenting on the lawn. (Meaning, that didn’t buy you anything except the right to tent. I know, it confused me, too.)

Jonathan Edwards Winery in Stonington, CT

Jonathan Edwards was really too expensive for us from the start, but when I began to get desperate, I tried to consider them. It’s a very scenic property, but alas, it comes with a not-so-scenic price tag: $8,000 for a ceremony and reception for up to 200 people. That price includes a Sperry tent, catering tent and tent lighting. I also didn’t like that they required you to choose from just two caterers.

Saltwater Farm Vineyards in Stonington

This is a lovely property, but it was not super-high on our list because it’s not really meant to be tented. They mostly host parties in the renovated airplane hanger, which is very cool but not quite what we were going for. Alas, Saltwater also had NO Saturday dates available until November 10! Again, wow!! Saltwater can accommodate up to 250 guests and it was quoted to us at $8,500 for a Saturday event in the peak season (May-October).

The Inn at Mystic in Mystic

I had high hopes for the Inn at Mystic, because I love the town and always thought that the Inn and its property were beautiful. However, we were quickly turned off by their very strange email communication, and their all-in-one package pricing. They also require you to use their on-site restaurant as your caterer (a no no in our book). The Inn can accommodate 250 guests and was quoted to us at $135 per person (included in that price is a ton of stuff, including the space, food, three floral arrangements, wedding cake, linens, etc., etc… which of course we wanted the freedom to choose for ourselves).

Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme

The Flo Gris has lovely gardens and is able to be tented, both of which earned it points in our book. It’s also situated on a river (one more point). The Florence Griswold can accommodate up to 150 people under a tent on the Moore Garden Terrace and was quoted to us at $5,000 for six hours. In the end it was both too expensive and too far of a drive from the chapel where our ceremony will be held.

North Lawn at the Mystic Seaport in Mystic

The North Lawn is a beautiful spot at the Seaport just begging to be tented. It’s right on the river, and can accommodate up to 500 guests. The North Lawn was quoted to us at $2,500, which I thought was reasonable. However, I was not pleased that they require you to use one caterer and their list of vendors for several other things, including linens. I also was not thrilled that events had to end at 10pm. Despite all this, however, we were seriously considering the North Lawn until we stumbled upon our ultimate venue…

To be continued!

Harkness photo from Wikipedia, Branford House photo by Jonathan Canlas, Jonathan Edwards photo by Robin Dini, Saltwater Farm photo by Charlotte Jenks Lewis, Florence Griswold photo by Justin & Mary Marantz, Seaport and Inn at Mystic photos from their sites

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September 14, 2011 9:27 pm

I really like the Branford House, but I agree that an extra $1000 for the space for a tent is weird. I can't wait to see where you picked!

Isle of View
September 15, 2011 12:48 am

I have failed to congratulate you on your engagement and upcoming wedding!! I'm loving all your wedding posts and will definitely be going back and commenting! CONGRATULATIONS!! Just getting to know you through your blog I love how sweet and authentic you are and know there could be no one more deserving of the perfect wedding! Thank you for sharing your journey with us:)

Here's to rejoining the blogging world!
xoxo, Charity

September 15, 2011 1:45 am

Awww Charity I have missed you!! Glad to have you back :)

November 13, 2014 10:00 pm

Hi EM,

I came upon your blog and was wondering how your sisters wedding was at the eolia mansion? We are holding a date there for September 2016. My only reservations were the heat since there is no AC. Did you find it hot in the mansion? How was the lighting? It seems rather dim inside with the wall scones being the only lighting in the dining areas.

Any feedback since you have been there would be helpful!