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Historic properties get new shine as wedding venues

From the couple cake-toppers that gained popularity in the 1930s to the poofy sleeves that graced the shoulders of ’80s brides, each generation has created its own special touch on weddings. In the latest trend, more millennials are opting out of traditional wedding venues in search of something new — or should we say old? Rustic and historic properties are the craze when it comes to North Carolina newlyweds, who are dishing out big bucks to say their “I dos.” More than 68,200 couples got married last year in the Old North State, spending an average of $20,416, including catering, flowers and venue, according to The Wedding Report Inc., a research company that tracks the bridal industry.

“I think that people are attracted to historic venues because of the character that those buildings have,” says Jessica Tilton, an event planner for Melrose Knitting Mill, a historic wedding venue in downtown Raleigh. “Being able to start with a space that has so much life and history makes the design so much more fun and alive to their guests.”

Here are a few of the dozens of North Carolina properties benefiting from the surge in popularity of rustic chic.

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The Barn at Cranberry Creek

Location: Boonville
Guest count: 200-250 maximum
Average cost: $4,500

The Boonville farm, located between Boone and Winston-Salem, has been run by the Brown family for five generations. Great-great- grandparents Thomas and Polly Ann Brown were the first to own the land in the early 1900s. Their grandson, ND, grew up on the family farm before joining the Army and serving in World War II. Upon returning home, ND transformed the farm into a dairy hub, selling milk to Coble Dairy in Lexington in the late 1940s. ND’s three grandsons and their spouses, Neil and Christy, Dwayne and Dana, and Darin, converted the old dairy farm into a sought-after wedding venue in 2017, opening the event space for their first wedding on April 28, 2018.
Venue manager Christy Brown handles the tours, bookings and works with the couples and vendors. With Neil in charge of marketing, advertising and promoting, Dwayne overseeing building codes, permits, inspections, architectural and engineering drawings, and Darin focusing on hiring various contractors to complete construction, the barn is still a family-run business. And it is paying off. In their first year of business, they hosted more than 30 weddings. This year, they are on track to host 40.
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Melrose Knitting Mill

Location: Raleigh
Guest count: 180 maximum
Average cost: $12,000 and up

The historic brick building built in 1900 once housed the Melrose Textile Mill, which manufactured undergarments and bathing suits until 1930, when it closed amid the Great Depression. For the next 79 years, the building sat vacant, except for a few short-term tenants.
A young Afghan immigrant, Abdul Zalal, bought the property for $60,000 in 1979. He put a new shine on the building, including installing a new roof. In 2009, operator and creative director Samad Hachby transformed the first floor of the mill into the Moroccan-themed Babylon Restaurant The space was later converted into an Italian eatery known as Mulino Italian Kitchen & Bar. Hachby revamped the third story in 2015 into what is now known as Melrose Knitting Mill, an event space that accommodates larger weddings, special events and parties. More than $2 million was spent on building renovations, including the restaurant, event venue and office space.
The venue now hosts about 60 weddings per year, with starting costs of $12,000, depending on the meal package.
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WinMock at Kinderton

Location: Bermuda Run
Guest count: 275 maximum
Average cost: $1,500 – $7,000

WinMock Farm, named for its proximity to Winston-Salem and Mocksville, was conceived more than 80 years ago by S. Clay Williams, a former president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. The property, originally pegged as a country retreat for the Williams family, grew into a functioning dairy farm. As the state grew, WinMock’s location became less remote, threatened by thoroughfares such as Interstate 40, which was proposed to run through the property. The farm had changed hands to the Bahnson family, who allowed the highway to be built in exchange for concessions from the state. The dairy farm was eventually shut down and the property went unused.
In 2011, Wayne Thomas, an events industry entrepreneur, caught a glimpse of the property’s potential, purchasing the farm and renaming it WinMock at Kinderton. Thomas’ firm, Sterling Events Co., restored three historic buildings — the dairy barn, bottling plant and granary — which put WinMock on the National Register of Historic Places. WinMock hosts an average of 75 weddings annually, along with corporate conferences and social events.
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Castle McCulloch

Location: Jamestown
Guest count: 300-350
Average cost: $4,500 and up

Twelve-year-old Conrad Reed’s discovery of a 17-pound gold nugget inspired North Carolina’s gold rush in the south-central Piedmont region in the early 1800s. Charles T. McCulloch, a South Carolina planter and entrepreneur, took advantage of this booming industry by building a central milling facility for raw gold-bearing ore in Guilford County called McCulloch’s Rock Engine House. The mill, which mainly employed Cornish immigrants, bears a close resemblance to the Levant Mine Whim Building near St. Just in Cornwall, England.
After the gold rush subsided, the mill fell into disrepair, changing hands several times until it was donated to Preservation North Carolina. Richard Harris, who grew up playing in the forest near the castle-like building, purchased 58 acres of the original site from the organization in 1985 and spent $600,000 restoring the mill building, dams and reservoirs to their former glory. The property, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, hosts more than 200 events annually, 80% of those being weddings. The property is about 6 miles east of High Point.
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