Old barn given new life as a venue for weddings
SEAFORD, Del. — Donna Vanderwende said she and her husband, Jimmy, used to dream about owning the old dairy farm at 22304 Atlanta Road in Seaford every time they drove by.
They wanted to make sure the farm, the barns and the house, were preserved. So far as they knew, it was a working dairy enterprise from the early 1930s until the 1980s.
Jimmy is the son of William Vanderwende, and he and Donna are owners of Vanderwende Creamery, a well-known ice cream operation located on the family farm on Route 404 in Bridgeville.
When a “for sale” sign was erected on the Atlanta Road farm on New Year’s Day in 2017, Donna immediately contacted the realtor, despite the holiday, because she knew him personally.
They went to settlement, but couldn’t start work because the farm was leased until the end of the growing season, with rights to the land and all the buildings.
That gave them plenty of time for planning what to do with the 90-acre property. Aware that Seaford needed an event venue, they elected to turn the better of the two barns into a wedding/party/reception venue. The older barn was beyond repair, so it was torn down. The house was cleaned up on the outside; the inside will wait until later.
Remodeling the barn was quite a task, Donna said. The stanchions where cows were once milked were removed from one side, but left intact on the other.
A glass top now covers the long feeding trough, which serves as a photo gallery and a museum of sorts, with pictures found inside the farm house and dairy memorabilia contributed from a variety of sources.
New walls, floor, heating and air conditioning were added; the wooden ceiling was whitewashed. Windows provide plenty of natural daylight. Lighting was added for evening events. Separate bride’s quarters and a groom’s room were added, offering space for wedding party members to prepare for the ceremony.
Sturdy indoor stairs were added to access the upper loft where hay was once stacked on wooden floors.
The huge exposed rafters may delight wedding party members who gather there for photos, but the loft cannot yet be used for larger gatherings. Double doors open onto a new balcony from which the bride or wedding couple may descend to greet their guests on the beautiful new stone patio. The barn itself accommodates 110 people; an adjacent covered pavilion provides room for up to 250.
An enormous stone fireplace fills the end of the patio opposite the barn. Couples may choose to have an open-air ceremony using the fireplace as a backdrop as they exchange their vows, then hold their reception under the pavilion. Tables and chairs are provided.
A farm shed offers private, indoor space for vendors to make final preparations. There is plenty of parking space. The beautifully landscaped venue abuts what remains a working grain farm.
“The Barn at Vanderwende Acres” includes exclusive use of the property for a 14-hour day and event coordination service by Sarah Silicato, family friend and event planner who works with a network of wedding industry professionals to meet the needs of clients.
With COVID-19 restrictions, however, there are no weddings being held this spring.
“When we first heard the news of the restriction of limiting events to 50 guests, then to 10, and ultimately closing our doors until May 15th, we were absolutely heartbroken for our couples,” Silicato said. “Some of our brides have dresses in stock at boutiques that were being altered, tuxedo orders that are being delayed because of shipment issues, and some have to hire completely new vendors for their new wedding date. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind, but couples are trying their best to stay positive during it all and so are we.”
Like so many other businesses, Silicato said they have made adjustments where they can.
“Our clients are always our first priority, so we came up with various solutions to accommodate our April and May weddings,” she said. “After numerous virtual meetings, phone calls and emails, we have successfully rescheduled all of the weddings that have been affected by COVID-19. Our clients were given first priority for all available dates, and now that everyone affected is rescheduled, we are reopening booking for 2021 and 2022. This pandemic is also affecting newly engaged couples trying to find a date for 2021. With a lot of couples postponing for 2021, vendors are getting booked quicker than normal. The whole wedding industry has felt the effects of COVID-19 tremendously, but we have all rallied together to support one another during this crazy time. I know I speak for all of us when I say, we cannot wait to get the 2020 wedding season started once this is behind us. It’s going to be an amazing one!”