by Nancy Duffy | Feature photo by Rachel Mummert Photography
While weddings signify the start of something new, there is something incredibly authentic about beginning the future in the past with a barn wedding. Tying the knot in a nontraditional setting is becoming a popular choice, and if home is truly where the heart is, then local couples need to look no further than Wilson’s Bittersweet Barn in New Oxford. Owner Troy Starner — along with his son and co-owner Colby, and daughter and event planner Kara — offers a blank canvas on which brides and grooms can create their signature weddings.
On a recent day, despite blustery weather, the barn was impressive, standing on several acres on Dicks Dam Road, as people prepped for the next celebration. The unique structure is being studied by Historical Society staff, who are trying to authenticate and identify the structure’s rare brickwork.
The site is as one-of-a-kind as the couples who choose to wed here. And that’s part of the appeal. The 1817 building blends rustic with romance, with its original barn doors and beams and its soft string lights and almost 20-foot harvest table.
“It is laid-back,” said Colby Starner, “without being out of place.” Ballrooms may provide an occasion for a black tie and gown and formality, but the the barn provides a venue for understated elegance.
“There is something so beautiful about the rustic history of an old barn,” said local wedding photographer Rachel Mummert, “and the character that the wood beams and soft lighting bring to a romantic day.”
The Starners say they put in “400 hours of power-washing” to reveal the beauty of the beams, and put “90 percent sweat equity” into making the structure authentic and the only certified barn in the Hanover area, complete with a “green” parking lot, koi pond, fire pit, and flower garden.
Everything is considered.
“This used to be the milking barn,” said Troy, as his hand swept across the expanse of the new cocktail room, located underneath the main structure that houses the seating, ceremony, and the all-important dance floor. The feeding troughs have been converted into seating and the granaries have been converted into restrooms.
“This was the purpose for the building all along,” said Colby. When the family bought the property in July 2016, they already saw a business opportunity. Troy purchased the barn and, with Kara, worked to restore history while building a dream day for their clients.
While the father and son team take care of the design, Kara is busy booking events and talking to brides.
“I come with the barn,” she joked. “For 30 days out from the wedding,” Kara is with the bride every step of the way and manages the “flow of the evening.” She prides herself on the flexibility she offers. “It is your way on your special day,” she said, and “we listen to what you want.”
Kara is not the only amenity that comes with the barn. Kitty, the resident barn cat, serves as the unofficial tour guide. At first, “she was extremely shy,” said Kara, but now “brides ask for her,” and she has grown to be a part of the special day.
And the special day is carefully memorialized. “I feel as though it is my job to freeze time for them,” said Mummert, “so they can look back on the photos for years to come and remember just how they felt in that moment.”
Naming the barn was a family affair. “Wilson” is borrowed from Troy’s great-uncle, Wilson Starner, who owned the barn from the late 1940s to 1999. Troy said that Wilson was a hardworking, no-nonsense man. “I wanted to memorialize him” — and naming the barn in his honor was the way to do it.
But more was needed.
“Should we even put that name [Bittersweet] in?” asked Troy when the family was trying to complete the name. It may sound odd at first, but “bittersweet” is a flowering vine, a name that crafter Eileen Starner used for her business.
The name was complete.
“It is really a one-stop shop,” explained Kara, “especially for the older generation because there is no travel.”
For Troy, the blend of nostalgia and heritage is understandable. “Back in the day,” he said, “over 80 percent of the area was farming — and now less than 2 percent is dedicated to it.” For his generation, a barn wedding was not a novelty, but now younger people want to get back to “simpler times” — and a barn wedding is fresh to them.
Each couple has a vision for the wedding day. While elegant, a barn wedding offers a relaxed environment from the moment the bride and groom walk through the barn door. Some brides and grooms have set up a volleyball net for the reception, enjoyed s’mores around the firepit, and someone even wanted to ride in a on bison, Colby recalled with a laugh.
The Stone Mill 1792
6210 Smoketown Rd, Glenville
410-236-0408 • www.thestonemill1792.com
Codorus State Park
2600 Smith Station Rd, Hanover
717-637-2816 • Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gitt Memorial Library
2001 Broadway, Hanover • 717-632-2245
Wilson’s Bittersweet Barn
590 Dicks Dam Rd, New Oxford • 717-624-7116
Rachel Mummert Photography