By Richard G. Biever
Laura Burton was never the kind of little girl who dreamed of having that big, fancy, “Barbie-style” ballroom wedding. “I was more of a tomboy,” she said. But on Sunday drives with her parents, she did like to daydream while gazing out the back windows at the passing farmland and countryside.
Though they lived in rural Benton County, her mom had family in adjoining Warren and Fountain counties to the south near Attica. They attended a rural church in the area and would visit. “We liked to cruise around in the country,” she recalled.
Just east of Attica, one particular old home with a wooden barn out back always caught Laura’s eye. “I remember driving by a house that was just beautiful. I’m a vintage, Victorian kind-of-girl. And I just always loved that house.”
The house (pictured above) was a two-story red-orange brick Italianate with gingerbread trim built in 1865. Laura never would — or could — have imagined then that one day her past and future would be joined together at that roadside home. But last October, just inside the double glass-paned wooden doors of that house, in a special room to the left of the wooden balustrade of its steep curved staircase, she readied herself to be a bride.
Then, before family and friends, she and her fiancé, Ben Fisher, said their timeless vows to each other out back by that old barn under God and a big Indiana autumnal sky.
CASUAL YET CLASSIC
The wedding took place in the historic home and barn known as Vignette Farms. It opened as a wedding venue at the start of 2020, just before the pandemic. The newly rebuilt 110-year-old post and beam barn features 3,200 square feet and includes a bar area and two bathrooms. The home, meanwhile, includes an elegantly decorated bride room and a masculine groom room with separate entrances, bathrooms and staircases, and an entryway accented by dramatic, tall windows and that breathtaking sweeping staircase.
The farm, served electrically by Tipmont REMC, is “something old” transformed into “something new.” It’s one of the latest around Indiana providing a place for this generation of brides and grooms trading the traditional formal locales for more relaxed, casual and natural settings.
“There’s something about country living that is charming to a lot of people,” said owner Derek May. May and his wife, Christine, purchased the farm in the summer of 2018. They have worked tirelessly to bring Vignette Farms to life.
“What we wanted to provide here is a timelessness,” said Chris.
Vintage weddings at venues like barns and farms have become popular in the past decade as many couples shun the glitzy trappings of ballrooms and banquet halls. They are trading the ritz for rustic. Doing so, they are finding a bucolic beauty at venues close to nature which reflect the timelessness of the vows they’ve made. Call it “rural chic,” “rustic chic” or “rustic elegance.”
“We’re pretty laid-back people,” said the bride, now Laura Fisher, of Ben and herself. “I just wanted something casual but classic and pretty, not real trendy. I just wanted a more elegant style, Victorian classic.”
According to an annual survey from The Knot, an online wedding-planning platform and magazine, 15% of couples getting married in 2019 chose a barn, farm, or ranch for their wedding reception which was the second most popular choice. And while traditional banquet halls remained number one, they are losing their appeal. In the past decade, the number of couples choosing to celebrate their wedding in banquet halls dropped from 27% in 2009 to 17%.
Couples today want their wedding to express their identity, The Knot noted. Couples gravitate toward locales that say something about them. By choosing to get married in a barn or a state park or similar outdoor venue, a couple might want to show their love of nature or that they fell in love hiking or camping. Other unique locales gaining in popularity are historic homes, museums and historic sites for history buffs, and rural vineyards for wine lovers.
“There’s just a serenity out here,” said Derek. “I think people sense it when they come out.”
Derek also noted there’s grandeur in the historic barns themselves — what you might call the old cathedrals of the cornfields. “There’s just something so special about an old historic barn, the story that’s behind it,” he said. “We tried to create this experience when people walk in where they are just in awe, how big and how high it is.”
A NEW PURPOSE
The Mays call themselves “serial entrepreneurs.” Both hail from Indianapolis and its suburbs. They’ve had their hands in various businesses: owned a coffee shop, a catering service, and a lawn care business; and built and sold custom furniture. “I call her the ‘visionary’ and myself ‘operations,’ said Derek. “She has all the ideas, and I help carry them out.”
After Chris binge-watched a Netflix show about a woman and her daughters establishing a barn wedding venue in Canada, her adult daughters, Courtney and Chelsea, convinced her that was something they could do. They also had a couple of friends who owned wedding barns. Courtney, 26, developed a marketing plan for barn wedding venues for a marketing research course she was taking.
The Mays sold their home, moved into a rental, and began looking for a property in eastern, northeastern suburban Indianapolis to begin a new chapter in their life. They put in an offer on 10 acres in Hancock County they thought would be ideal, but it fell through when their variance for the venue was rejected by the zoning board. They continued their search and broadened their search.
They finally found the historic home and barn outside of Attica. It was an hour and a half drive from Indy’s north side, a little farther than they planned, but they drove out to the open house. “I just knew there was something special about this property,” Chris said. The location was close enough to Lafayette/West Lafayette and Purdue University that they believed they could make it work.
The home had been restored in the 1970s by a family that had lived there for 40 years. There had been other owners since, one updated the kitchen. Coincidentally, they later learned the kitchen designer from Home Depot was Ben Fisher’s mom.
The Mays realized the barn to be the wedding venue had some issues: there were sagging areas and rotted flooring; a turkey vulture had taken up residence; and, though it had been decades since animals inhabited the barn, it still smelled like an old barn. But they put in an offer and were able to purchase the home, barn and seven acres in September 2018.
The Mays first sought out a well-known Amish construction crew from Adams County to help restore the barn, but the team was too busy to schedule them in. So, the Mays turned to other contractors. “It was such a horrible mess. We had many crews come and did not call us back. They did not want the job,” noted Chris.
Finally, they hired a crew and were repairing footers, replacing bad siding, and having new concrete poured. Then, on May 23, 2019, straight line winds came through, picked the barn up a bit, dropped it, and the whole thing collapsed into itself. It was among four barns in the area to topple in the storm that day.
Fortunately, Derek had an engineering friend out earlier who did a schematic drawing of the barn down to every post. He had a perfect blueprint to rebuild it exactly as it was. At that point, the Amish barn builder, Ruben Schwartz, had cleared his schedule and agreed to reconstruct it. “It was so devastating. But long story short, it was a blessing in disguise,” said Derek.
The Amish crew salvaged about 80% of the original posts and timbers and were able to clean and treat them, getting rid of the old barn odor. A small crew then came and rebuilt the barn over the course of about six weeks in the fall of 2019, completing it in November. The end result: Essentially a brand new 1910 barn built with clean like-new original timbers.
The Mays also had a new stamped concrete floor poured, and Chris, a skilled carpenter, put much of the original barn wood not reusable for the rebuild to another use. She and the family, which also includes 17-year-old son Preston, built the long dining tables for the barn.
She and Derek credit the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs for a matching grant that, along with insurance funds and other help from the Attica community, allowed them to rebuild the barn for the new business venture.
“We never, ever dreamed that we would have a brand new ‘old’ barn, cleaned, repaired, that will hopefully last 100 years,” added Chris.
While Vignette Farms only had two weddings its first year, because of COVID, 12 have been booked for 2021, and two already for 2022. The barn also will be used to host an international soil/agricultural meeting this summer.
A HIDDEN GEM
Chris has other plans beyond a wedding venue for Vignette Farms, thus the “s” on the end, she said. They’ve purchased a small greenhouse to start growing and selling flowers. She’d like to open up a roadside coffee shop and raise chickens, and a Victorian garden is on her bucket list. A vineyard, Chris said, would be appropriate down the road … to go with “Vignette” which is derived from the French word for “vine.” Vine also happens to be the name of a crossroads community just up the road. “I have visions for this and this and this …,” she said.
“I walk around in awe of the history of this place,” she added. “We’re just stewards of this place. It’s ours for now, but it’s not ‘ours.’ We’ve had so many people come through, and, sometimes, they just stop and ask if they can look because they’ve always wanted to see inside the house. We love that.”
It’s a funny coincidence that long before Vignette Farms was in care of the Mays, it belonged to the imagination of a young Laura Burton, riding past in her parents’ car. And just by chance, Laura’s mother, Kathy, came across the venue online when Laura began looking for a wedding site. “You mean the house I always used to like to drive by that had the barn?” Laura asked her mom. “That would be perfect.”
And it was. Laura added, “I’m thankful Chris and Derek saw a hidden gem in the house and barn, and brought it back to life for people to enjoy.”
If you go …
2370 East State Road 28, Attica, Indiana
RICHARD G. BIEVER is senior editor of Indiana Connection.
Indiana Barn Venues
The list of non-traditional wedding/reception venues around Indiana has proliferated in the past decade. We reached out to the electric cooperatives that distribute Indiana Connection for recommendations of event centers in their areas. Here’s a list of places to consider:
Blackberry Hill Wedding Barn
9960 State Hwy 7 • Elizabethtown, IN 47232
812-447-3851 • blackberryhillweddingbarn.com
White Diamond Lavender Farms
9415 E 800 N • Hope, IN 47246
812-344-0105 • whitediamondlavenderfarms.com
JLH Wedding Barn
5465 S. SR 75 • Jamestown, IN 46147
765-479-0785 • www.jlhweddingbarn.com
The Barn in Zionsville
8556 E. 300 S. • Zionsville, IN 46077
317-732-1998 • www.thebarninzionsville.com
Vintage Oaks Banquet Barn
1810 N. 1150 W. • Delphi, IN 46923
217-972-0583 • www.vintageoaksbanquetbarn.com
Franklin Farms Event Venue LLC
7520 Oscar Long Road • Marysville, IN 47141
502-627-0885 • www.franklinfarmsindiana.com
Montgomery Farms Weddings and Events
1122 E. Radio Tower Road • Underwood, IN 47177
812-414-4300 • montgomery-farms.com
Cedar Bluff Weddings and Retreats
873 Walnut Valley Road NW • Corydon, IN 47112
812-267-4635 • cedarbluffwedding.com
1890 W. State Road 38 • New Castle, IN 47362
765-465-1713 • www.facebook.com/barnthirtyeight
The Belgian Horse Winery
7200 W. CR 625 N. • Middletown, IN 47356
765-779-3002 • www.belgianhorsewinery.com
8001 S. Grant City Road • Knightstown, IN 46148
765-345-2020 • www.boondocksfarms.com
Whitetail Tree Farm
8650 N. CR 100 E. • Springport, IN 47386
765-524-8977 • www.whitetailtreefarm.com
The Barn at Willow Lake
2060 W. CR 200 N. • North Vernon, IN 47265
812-592-2881 • www.thebarnatwillowlake.com
The Barn at Willow Lake
2060 W. CR 200 N. • North Vernon, IN 47265
812-592-2881 • www.thebarnatwillowlake.com
The Shed at Guse Christmas Trees
6177 W. 1450 S. • Wanatah, IN 46390
219-733-9346 • www.gusechristmastrees.com/weddings-events/
Mid-America Windmill Museum Baker Hall
732 S. Allen Chapel Road • Kendallville, IN 46755
260-347-2334 • www.midamericawindmillmuseum.org
Sylvan Cellars Events Center
2725 E. Northport Road • Rome City, IN 46795
260-854-9463 • sylvancellars.net
380 SR 43 • Spencer, IN 47460
812-964-9400 • www.abramfarm.com
7 S. Eastern Ave. • Batesville, IN 47006
513-519-9936 • www.romwebermarketplace.com
857 Six Pine Ranch Road • Batesville, IN 47006
812-934-2600 • www.walhillfarm.com
The Corner House B&B
3984 N. CR 200 W. • Rockport, IN 47635
812-660-0331 • www.cornerhousebb.com
Matlida’s Event Barn
13222 E. CR 1025 N. • Evanston, IN 47531
812-544-2537 • https://www.matildaseventbarn.com/theeventbarn
5001 E. Poplar St. • Terre Haute, IN 47803
812-567-6565 • www.thesycamorefarm.com
Tanglewood Weddings & Event Barn
4779 W. CR 1060 N. • Boonville, IN 47601
812-660-1915 • https://www.tanglewoodeventsbarn.com
2190 S. Becks Mill Road • Salem, IN 47167
812-620-1584 • www.facebook.com/The-Farm-100384718067576/
For a compilation of multiple spots, check out these web addresses: https://www.weddingwire.com/c/in-indiana/barn-farm-weddings/501-sca.html