All Manner of Manors
There are angels in the details. The long-ago craftsmanship woven into the building of now-historic mansions and their re-creations—once stately family homes, now inns and museums—carries through in the appreciation, renovation, and care of their current owners. Many of those folks now host weddings, sharing the ambiance of a past gilded age with young couples looking forward to their own golden future.
John Joseph Inn in Groton was originally the property of a Revolutionary War soldier who received a land grant in payment for his military service. After the once-grand building burned and was abandoned, the property was purchased by the Hamilton family, who came to the area in 2006 after opening restaurants in Napa and Sonoma. They rebuilt the Italianate mansion in period style to become an inn, complete with a commercial kitchen built to the specifications of chef, innkeeper, and wedding planner John Joseph Hamilton. The property had been subdivided over the years, but the Hamiltons slowly bought the land around them as it became available, restoring the original farm’s orchards, barns, and gardens. The property is currently a working farm—with the help of the five Hamilton children.
“We are as much a one-stop shop for weddings as you can get,” John says. “We do all our food and beverages in-house, from hors d’oeuvres to wedding cakes.” Much of what they serve is either grown on the home farm or sourced locally, and he’ll happily customize the experience. He once did a twelve-course vegan tasting menu; he also recreated a groom’s grandmother’s Russian recipe requiring a week’s preparation of sixteen sheep. The Hamiltons can help a couple find musicians or DJs and the right florist and photographer for their needs, but almost everything else can be included in their wedding package.
“We’re not a wedding factory,” John says. “We focus on one client at a time for a high-end culinary experience in a private setting. A lot of clients will have us host a full wedding weekend—rehearsal dinner, reception, and farewell Sunday brunch. It can end up being less stressful, easier, and more cost-effective for our clients.” He’ll typically host about twenty weddings annually. Around 200 guests can be accommodated in their luxurious, crystal-chandeliered wedding tent; during the winter months, the house will hold up to eighty. Many photographers have told him the Inn is their favorite venue, because its manicured setting allows them to take memorable photographs with a variety of vistas. Find out more at johnjosephinn.com or call (607) 533-0097.
Marcus and Elin Dowd purchased the Queen Anne-style Idlwilde Inn overlooking Watkins Glen and Seneca Lake two years ago. Built as a summer home in 1892 by an early investor in the area’s salt mines, it was bought by the Clute family in the early twentieth century, and served for many years as their family home. The Dowd’s very first guests remarked, “This would be a great place to get married!” and became one of their first wedding clients a few months later. Marcus even got one of those online diplomas allowing him to legally officiate at ceremonies. Elin helps couples with wedding planning—or elopement planning. The inn currently specializes in small weddings with up to thirty attendees, the number that can be comfortably accommodated in the inn’s fifteen guest rooms.
“Everybody who’s gotten married here felt there would be no other way to do it,” Marcus says. “It’s not as expensive as a larger, grander wedding. This is a way to have some old-world charm.” Overlooking the village and Seneca Lake, Idlwilde offers four potential wedding spaces, including a gazebo. One recent wedding couple got engaged there and returned for their wedding. Indoors, there are stately spaces for an intimate reception, like the one held last winter when the bride made her grand entrance down the sweeping main staircase and the ceremony was performed in the round turret area of the parlor overlooking the lake. There’s more information at idlwildeinn.com, or call (607) 535-3081.
Set on a hill overlooking Keuka Lake, Esperanza, the Greek Revival mansion in Jerusalem, was built in 1838 by wealthy farmer John Rose. It’s changed hands multiple times; most recently, beginning in late 2018, two Rochester couples purchased and restored it.
“All of us wanted to be part of a beautiful historical piece of property, to preserve it and bring it back to life. It’s important to the area,” says Mary Alexander, one of the owners. Offering eight suites and rooms in the mansion, and twenty-two more in the adjacent affiliated hotel, Esperanza can host the entire party for a small wedding, as they anticipate doing this coming Valentine’s weekend, or up to 200 in the mansion’s recently-constructed ballroom.
Long known as a wedding venue, the new owners are continuing the tradition with a variety of wedding options. A typical wedding might begin with the ceremony on the patio or lawn—they’ve recently planted sixty rose bushes to honor the original owners—followed by cocktails and then a move indoors to the ballroom. With an on-site restaurant, they can offer a variety of meal options, from buffets to sit-down dinners, and even the newly popular after-party snack-fest. Mary says they can also help plan the ceremony, offering the prospective couple a roster of vendors for photography, videography, flowers, specialty bakery items, even officiants.
“It’s elegant, beautiful, and unique,” she says. “I have to tell you, the people who reach out to us and have a passion and desire to have their wedding here is incredible.” More information is at esperanza-mansion.com, or at (315) 694-9017.
Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park in Canandaigua (sonnenberg.org) is another popular regional wedding venue hosting a ceremony for up to 250 people every weekend from May to October, and sometimes during the week as well. Wedding packages include indoor and outdoor options. The Peter Herdic Inn (herdichouse.com), on Williamsport’s famed Millionaire’s Row, offers wedding-related space—bridal shower, ceremony, reception, bridal honeymoon, and bridal party/family lodging—in an elegant, Victorian setting.
Beauty, like possibilities, lies all around, sometimes in unexpected places. Looking for a wedding venue? Ask around—the angels with the details might be closer than you thought.