9 Historic Sites Perfect for Weddings
Full disclosure: I am one month away from getting married, so I have weddings on the brain right now. But then again, it’s June, which means that much of American society is also caught up in wedding season—the celebrations, the toasts, the dancing, and, of course, the locations.
The places where we choose to get married reflect our values, interests, and personalities. And for people who love the rich character of historic places, what better place to declare one’s timeless love than at a beautiful old site that has stood the test of time itself?
Here we share nine National Trust Historic Sites that play host to a wide array of weddings, celebrations, and other events. Whether you’re planning your own wedding or just love love, you’ll want to soak up the photos and anecdotes below, as they represent wonderful moments at wonderful places.
President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldiers’ Home offers a unique and historic setting for weddings. The cottage, built in the Gothic Revival style in 1842; the Robert H. Smith Visitor Education Center, a 1905 Beaux Arts style building; and the bucolic grounds offer a variety of options for indoor and outdoor entertaining. Proceeds from private events help keep President Lincoln’s Cottage a home for brave ideas by supporting groundbreaking exhibits, inspirational school programs, and ongoing preservation efforts. President Lincoln’s Cottage is a proud recipient of many awards, including Best Wedding Vendor by Washingtonian magazine, Wedding Wire’s Editor’s Pick, and Wedding Wire’s Couples’ Choice Award. The venue was also selected as a Washington D.C. Best Venue by Pridezillas.
President Lincoln’s Cottage, “The Cradle of the Emancipation Proclamation,” provided Lincoln the space to develop his executive order that helped end slavery. Freed from bondage, millions of African-Americans, for the first time, had the right to legally marry their loved one. As the right to marry continues to expand, the cottage proudly hosts couples of all backgrounds for their special day. In 2012, President Lincoln’s Cottage hosted the first same-sex wedding on a U.S. military installation. Couples who wed at President Lincoln’s Cottage often make a special bond with the site and stay heavily connected as donors, patrons, and supporters.
Standing under the chuppah (the traditional wedding canopy) with their parents, couples exchange their vows at Touro Synagogue, the National Trust's magnificent 18th-century sanctuary. As they join the thread of history at America's oldest synagogue, couples embrace the religious traditions of their forebears while reaffirming our Colonial forefathers’ commitment to religious liberty for all. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the bridegroom shatters a wine glass with his foot, symbolizing the irrevocability of the marriage covenant, as the audience stands and shouts "mazel tov” (congratulations).
Jewish couples have wed at Touro Synagogue ever since Reverend Isaac Touro, the first spiritual leader of the congregation, married Reyna Hays at the synagogue in 1773. Today, young couples from all across America come to celebrate their nuptials at Touro.
Learn more about life cycle events at Touro Synagogue.
A couple stands on the top steps of a white house exalted above the ground. A string quartet plays on the upper deck, the music mingling with a babbling river below, and birds singing in the surrounding trees. Loved ones gather on the lower deck and sprawling lawn to witness the joyous occasion. Farnsworth House has been called a sacred place, a modernist sanctuary of steel pillars and glass reflecting the movement of life. It is an extraordinary setting for the union of two hearts, where nature and architecture meet.
Sometimes an unexpected guest arrives at Lyndhurst weddings. In one case, it was a Hessian soldier looking for his lost head. The couple from California surprised their guests a second after they professed their vows on the sweeping lawn in front of the mansion with the Headless Horseman on his black stallion galloping in a circle around the them. Once their clapping and gasping stopped, the bride proceeded to mount the horse for photographs.
Lyndhurst Castle is also the perfect magical location for a Cinderella wedding. One bride arrived in a white pumpkin-shaped carriage drawn by two white horses. (Yes, she was wearing glass slippers.) On the darker side, Lyndhurst was the location of a Wiccan wedding with the bride dressed as a butterfly with gossamer wings and the mother of the bride as a witch in black.
Each wedding is unique, and the landscape and architecture help each couple put their vision of their ideal wedding day, from traditional to contemporary, into focus. The beauty of this American historic jewel provides a welcoming atmosphere for their friends and families.
Decatur House was built in 1818 for Naval hero Commodore Stephen Decatur and was designed for stylish entertaining. Positioned just steps away from the White House in downtown Washington, D.C., Decatur House unites a sophisticated setting with the magnificence of a rich history and the prestige of an unparalleled location.
Decatur House is incredibly versatile, with three unique indoor and outdoor spaces. This flawlessly restored historic residence, operated by the White House Historical Association in co-stewardship with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is sprinkled with opulent details, from the glittering 19th-century Parisian chandeliers to the inlaid parquet hardwood floors and hand-painted ceilings. Couples become a part of a rich history of entertaining when they choose Decatur House as their wedding venue.
Take Brad and Lily, for example. They wanted to host their wedding in the beautiful and historic city of Washington, D.C., where they met and fell in love. Decatur House was ultimately the perfect venue for their romantic summer wedding, which encapsulated the beauty and history of the city for their family and friends. In addition to its phenomenal location—with its proximity to the White House, St. John's Church (their parish, built in 1816), and the St. Regis Hotel (where their guests stayed)—the Historic Parlor really transports guests into the past.
Brad and Lily envisioned their cocktail hour in the Historic Parlor, tented dinner in the gorgeous courtyard surrounded by seasonal greenery, and flowers and reception in the carriage house. The flow of their wedding day was incredibly seamless and every detail was perfect, thanks to wedding planner EVOKE and Decatur House Preferred Vendor Occasions Caterers. Brad and Lily were beyond thrilled with every aspect of their wedding day and couldn’t be more grateful to Decatur House and their staff.
A wedding took place on the gardens of Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens on Saturday, April 30, 2016. Here’s what Kelsey, the bride, had to say about her experience:
“History. Character. Life. Storytelling. Entertainment. These are just some of the ways to describe Villa Finale. As Mike and I toured the home as one of our first dates, we felt like we were at home and experiencing part of San Antonio History.
The excitement of the interesting stories of the home and life of Mr. Mathis showcased how he enjoyed entertaining people in his home. Mike and I enjoy antiques, sharing family stories, and discovering unique gems wherever we go...
As we visited several outdoor locations in the San Antonio area, there wasn't a location that said, 'This is our story, this is where our life together will begin.' One night, it came to me in a dream. I woke up and checked the Villa Finale website to see if they would allow weddings at the venue and I made the call. Mike and I knew this was the place we wanted to start our life together as Mr. & Mrs. McGee.
The staff of Villa Finale was so helpful and full of the “Mathis” hospitality. We kept the decor simple and fresh to go with the beauty of the home and gardens. Stories were told, beautiful music flowed from the harp, and sounds of laughter from all ages filled the garden as a new journey began for us. Mike and I didn't know Mr. Mathis, but we think that his spirit was there on our wedding day...
Our wedding day was everything that we wanted at Villa Finale. It could not have been more perfect!”
Woodlawn and the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Pope-Leighey House is on property nestled in delightful green space, only twenty minutes from the hustle and bustle of Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia, which sits across the river from Washington, D.C.
The mansion house and its surrounding landscape has a most pertinent and delightful wedding story: The property, originally part of Mount Vernon’s lands, was a gift from George and Martha Washington to their grandchild and ward, Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, and nephew Lawrence Lewis upon their own nuptials in 1799 on the General’s final birthday. Although they married at Mount Vernon, dramatic Woodlawn—the couple's first family home—was a truly lasting wedding gift, situated on a hill above the Potomac. Today, brides at Woodlawn often who have a deep love for this building and even choose to wear silk ribbons around their waists—a subtle reference to Nelly Custis’ own wedding dress.
The mansion house that still stands today provides a beautiful backdrop for events and celebrations, which can be set up in a number of spaces, offering prospective couples a variety of choices. The stories there infuse Woodlawn’s weddings with history, while the venue offers many modern amenities. The recently expanded, luxurious tented space is a game-changer, sitting discreetly within the historic landscape and allowing large events to take place without fear of changing weather.
Bonus: Looking for a more modern backdrop? Nestled in a wooded and secluded area is the Pope-Leighey House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1940. With Wright's 150th birthday celebrations starting in June 2017, this delightful gem is in much demand as a venue by Wright fans. While the 1,200-square-foot house can only accommodate 15 people or less for an indoor ceremony, it's possible to tent the area around the house and be married nearby.
Chesterwood, the summer home and studio of Daniel Chester French—best known for his iconic sculpture of the Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial—combines the elegance of his European gardens with the stunning Berkshires landscape. This setting creates a beautiful, memorable backdrop for a wedding. Perennial gardens, sweeping lawns with natural woodland walks, and broad porches with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains set the stage for a small intimate gathering or a large celebration with 500 guests.
Emily Ringler and Brett Noble were married at Chesterwood last year. Emily grew up in the Berkshires and used to go to Chesterwood on field trips as a kid. “I remembered how beautiful it was when we got engaged and started looking at venues. When we visited, we both fell in love with the mix of classical and contemporary sculpture, and the stunning natural beauty around it. Also, my husband is a big Abe Lincoln fan and loved that historical element. There's really no other place like it in the area with that combination of art, nature and history.”
Chesterwood is also the site of a contemporary sculpture show, which makes for fun wedding photo ops. The annual sculpture show honors Daniel Chester French’s interest in supporting his contemporaries and affords today’s sculptors the opportunity to be inspired by and respond to the magnificent grounds and landscape that French once enjoyed.
From verandas overlooking the old Illinois and Michigan Canal to customizable menus, the Public Landing Restaurant at the Gaylord Building offers couples the opportunity to step back in time for their special day. This handsome Italianate building, made with locally mined limestone excavated during the construction of the 96-mile-long canal, originally stored canal construction materials.
The Gaylord Building offers warm and inviting spaces not available at your run-of-the-mill wedding venues. Couples and their guests enjoy the beauty of exposed interior limestone walls and the dramatic effect of the original exposed wood beams in the banquet facilities. Amazing photo opportunities await at the Gaylord Building with the gorgeous green backdrops of the canal, colorful landscaping, and the adjacent Lincoln Landing park.
The Gaylord Building is a national model of adaptive reuse and serves as a gateway to the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor.