She’s dreamed of her wedding day since she was a little girl. The flowers, the gown, the location – every detail is important and requires months of planning. Of all the components that comprise a wedding ceremony and reception, few are as important – or as challenging to schedule – as the venue. Whether you dream of a Midwest destination wedding or a hometown setting, we’ve found some of the region’s favorites, and share the experiences of couples who recently said “I do.”
Worth Every Penny
Goldmoor Inn, Galena, Ill.
Hannah Plickebaum knew her boyfriend, Jason, would propose to her, but she didn’t know when or where.
So, when Jason got on one knee and proposed to the girl he met at the University of Iowa in front of her entire family at Christmas, she was blown away.
“I thought he was going to do it in private, because he’s shy and a very private person,” Hannah says. “I also called him a butthead before answering.”
As she searched for a wedding venue, Hannah came across some photos of The Goldmoor Inn. She was hooked from that moment on.
“I saw the pictures online and I fell in love almost immediately,” she says. “After meeting [Birgit Radin, co-owner of The Goldmoor], I didn’t even want to look at other venues. She was amazing and the property was amazing. I was practically singing on the car ride home because I was so excited.”
To make sure they got the date they wanted, Hannah says the couple booked their wedding date about 18 months early.
“We set the date for June 22, 2019, since it was close to my late aunt’s birthday,” Hannah says. “It’s also my sister’s birthday, but she graciously let us share.”
The Goldmoor grounds can accommodate intimate weddings and elopements. Under normal circumstances, the pavilion can hold up to 175 guests, and if it rains, protective siding can be added. A roomy patio situated behind The Goldmoor overlooks a wooded area and the Mississippi River, which creates a perfect gathering space for cocktail hour.
A smaller gazebo that can fit up to 10 people can be used for elopements, and during the cooler months, The Goldmoor can host up to 50 guests for an indoor wedding.
Each spot on the property showcases sunning Galena landscaping that makes for a perfect wedding day backdrop.
Hannah says the guests who attended her wedding loved everything about The Goldmoor, especially the food.
“They were seriously amazed,” she says. “The property was gorgeous and the food was a hit. Every guest I spoke to was in awe of how perfect the food was.”
One of those guests who also gave rave reviews of the facility was Hannah’s mother, Sharon Murray.
“Everything was just as my daughter and her husband wanted,” Murray says. “I would highly recommend The Goldmoor Inn to any bride who’s looking for a perfect wedding venue.”
Hannah gives Radin and the staff at The Goldmoor a lot of praise because they made sure the day went according to plan.
“The entire staff asked what we needed and how they could make things better,” Hannah says. “I don’t think they let me worry about a single thing. When I mentioned to Birgit that I was scared of rain, she said, ‘Don’t be,’ in such a way that I was convinced that she’d keep the rain away herself.”
Hannah says getting married at The Goldmoor was worth every penny.
“They provide everything – it’s completely worth it,” she says. – JP
Rockford Woman’s Club, Rockford
Chelsea Garrett and some friends from her church had a girl’s night in May 2016. The more her friends started talking about how great Tyrone, a fellow church member, was, the more curious Chelsea became.
“I made a comment and said, ‘If he needs a wife, let him know I’m available,’” she says.
What started as a playful joke slowly became a reality. Three months after that night with her friends, Chelsea was lending a hand at Auburn High School when she crossed paths with her future husband. “What attracted me to him was his outgoing personality, and he was always kind to everyone,” Chelsea says.
Soon after that first conversation, the couple started dating.
“I never got bored and the conversations that we had were real,” Chelsea says. “I realized pretty early on that this was something special and he was something special.”
The couple went to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, with some friends in July 2017. That’s when Tyrone made his move.
“When we were settled on the beach, my friends wanted to take pictures,” Chelsea says. “Everyone was talking about a boat behind me, so I turned around to look. When I turned around, he was right there in the sand down on one knee.”
When it came time to find a wedding venue, Chelsea decided to follow in her parents’ footsteps and get married at the Rockford Woman’s Club. Her parents, Ann and Terry Gulley, exchanged their wedding vows at the same historic venue more than 30 years ago on Feb. 13, 1988. They’re still married to this day.
“I knew about the venue, but I’ve never been inside,” Chelsea says. “My mom suggested we go check it out, and I fell in love.”
Chelsea and Tyrone tied the knot on Oct. 6, 2018. The couple locked down the venue a year in advance.
The Rockford Woman’s Club boasts 100 years of architectural beauty. It has a large space upstairs for dancing and music in the Belle Keith Art Gallery. There’s a sunroom positioned just off the gallery, which could be used for photos or a quiet place to catch your breath.
Right outside the gallery is a balcony, perfect for a bouquet or garter toss.
“The venue is gorgeous and needed very little decorating,” Chelsea says. “You don’t need to add a lot of decor because the venue has so many beautiful details already.”
Head down a grand staircase and you’ll find an elegant banquet hall that’s large enough to accommodate 175 people under normal circumstances.
Chelsea credits the staff at the Rockford Woman’s Club for making their wedding day extra special.
“On the day of the wedding, we were their No. 1 focus and they made sure everything ran smoothly,” Chelsea says. “[Nancy Whitlock, president of the Rockford Woman’s Club] was truly the biggest blessing to us, and she made sure everything went smoothly. I was so happy she was a part of the day.” – JP
Like Falling the First Time
The Barn at Hornbaker Gardens, Princeton, Ill.
Jordan Alberico never expected to fall in love with the first wedding venue she saw, but she just couldn’t help herself. The Barn at Hornbaker Gardens, located 5 miles southeast of Princeton, Ill., checked all of the right boxes.
“The part that stood out the most, from the beginning, was how beautiful it was,” she says. “It’s in the perfect location, the place is gorgeous, and the view is breathtaking.”
The Barn bears many rustic elements, from the stained cedar siding to the lofty ceilings and exposed wood elements, but it’s a space that’s just as easily transformed into an elegant setting. The lush ceremony space outside is photogenic all year long, as it’s set amidst 40 acres that include a garden center, botanic gardens, a 2-acre native prairie and an arboretum.
“My husband hunts and fishes, so a place like Hornbaker Gardens was really appealing to us, and it was our kind of feel,” says Jordan, who now lives on 7.5 acres near Wilmington, Ill.
As much as the first impression made a difference, it’s what came next that sealed the deal. Wedding coordinator Lindsay Funderberg shared a packet full of information, including lists of local vendors who can provide linens, catering and more.
“You have to go outside The Barn and get all those things, and that can be super overwhelming,” explains Jordan. “But Lindsay had this beautiful folder with all of these perfectly organized lists of vendors who’d already worked with The Barn. That was super, super helpful.”
When Jordan met Chris Alberico through mutual friends, they were in different places in their lives. They started dating in 2012 and eventually had a son. As little Hank’s first birthday rolled around, Jordan was hoping for a ring, but she couldn’t be sure. She suggested doing a family photo shoot.
“I had to do some convincing,” Jordan says. “I was like, ‘I think we should have a nice photo of the three of us as a family, because it’s a big year.’”
Little did she know a proposal was already in the works. When the photo shoot concluded, Chris was down on one knee.
“He said, ‘Hank wants to know if you’ll marry his daddy,’” Jordan says.
Her dreams of a modest summer wedding eventually gave way to a fall wedding with 500 people. Finding the right venue for a crowd that big felt daunting.
“I didn’t want a church, and I didn’t want a hotel ballroom; that just isn’t us,” says Jordan. “I told Chris that, if we’re going to do this, I’m going to do it my way. And then I literally ended up picking the first place we went.”
The couple were married on Nov. 2, 2019, and although conditions outside were frigid, Jordan was fully prepared for a ceremony indoors. So was Lindsay, their wedding coordinator at The Barn. She orchestrated the conversion of the Great Hall from wedding ceremony to reception – and relieved many other stresses in preparing for the big day.
“We got so many compliments on Lindsay at our wedding, for how prompt she was at everything,” Jordan says. “If a guest needed something, she was right there. Everyone was like, ‘That lady…’ I was like, ‘Yep, she’s the boss.’”
Jordan is grateful to her many vendors, too.
“We went back and forth early on,” Jordan says. “We really loved it, but could we afford to do it, did we want to do it, did we want to take the leap? My advice would be to just do it. Because it was worth it in the end.” – CL
The Heart Knows
Tebala Event Center, Rockford, Ill.
Sometimes fate brings two people together long before they know they’re perfect for each other. After attending preschool and middle school together, Katrina and Cody Crane lost touch when Katrina moved. They reconnected years later at a sibling’s graduation party.
“I was attracted to Cody because he has the biggest smile,” says Katrina. “It’s almost like he smiles with his whole body. You can’t help but love him.”
Katrina and Cody knew early on that they wanted to get married, but it took some help from a furry little friend to move things along. The Rockford residents decided one day to get a puppy, so their apartment might feel more like the home they always wanted. As Cody watched Katrina and their new four-legged friend, he had an epiphany. “I finally realized it was time for us to get married,” says Cody. “We were sitting in our apartment eating dinner with our new puppy. Every time I looked at those two, it just made my heart melt, and in that moment I just knew she was the one for me.”
Cody proposed on Labor Day in 2018. “It was very simple. Nothing theatrical, but it was perfect,” says Katrina. “We had been together at that point for five years, and it was such a peaceful moment, just us two.”
The couple were married on Jan. 18, 2020, in the company of 260 family and friends. Tebala Event Center, in Rockford, hosted the newlyweds reception. The social events venue offers flexible accommodations and banquet hall options, including a private bridal suite. Conveniently located minutes away from several hotels, restaurants and bars, Tebala Event Center is near plenty of options for overnight guests.
“We needed something indoors and spacious. I wanted people to have a lot of room to move around,” says Katrina. “When we visited Tebala, it was so classy and updated. It really was a no-brainer.”
With its 19-foot ceilings and 500-person capacity, Tebala offered the spacious indoor accommodations needed for the couple’s winter wedding reception.
“So many people commented on how they couldn’t believe that’s what it looked like inside,” says Katrina. Even with our large number of guests, no one was bumping chairs. Lisa Torrance, Tebala’s event coordinator, and her staff were so seamless about everything.”
Tebala provides tables and chairs, as well as bar packages, preferred caterers, and assistance with decorations in advance. “Lisa goes above and beyond to make your vision come to life,” says Katrina. “She thought of, and executed, details that I didn’t even think about. I can’t say enough good things about her.”
Lisa encourages couples to reserve their space well in advance, as dates fill up quickly. Katrina and Cody booked their wedding about a year ahead of time, which gave them plenty of time to plan.
“Tebala was so beautiful on the inside and the staff is so organized,” says Katrina. “It would be my first choice again and again. On the day of, don’t worry about the details. It goes so fast. If you’re worried about everything going perfectly, you’ll miss it.” – BH
A Weekend Event
Starved Rock Lodge & Conference Center, Oglesby, Ill.
Aubrey Marks grew up in California, but was familiar with the small town of Paw Paw, Ill., where her dad lived.
“We’d come back every Labor Day,” she recalls. During one of these annual visits, she met Kevin Johnson, a Paw Paw native. For him, it was love at first sight. The two developed a friendship, even though they lived far apart.
When her dad fell ill in April 2017, Aubrey moved across the country to help take care of him.
“It was such a difficult time, but Kevin was there for me every step of the way,” Aubrey says. “My dad completely recovered and Kevin and I fell in love, so it turned out to be such a blessing. We got engaged that September.”
Aubrey remembers the proposal being “magical and perfect.” During a beautiful fall day, the couple explored Kuipers Family Farm, in Maple Park, before going out to dinner. Meanwhile, Aubrey’s sister, Amanda, was busy with setting up decorations.
“We got back to my dad’s house and Kevin said my sister had a surprise for me,” Aubrey recalls. “He led me into the backyard – where there’s cornfields as far as the eye can see – and when I opened my eyes there were twinkly lights and candles everywhere, and the prettiest pink sunset.”
Kevin got down on one knee, and Aubrey cried as she accepted his proposal.
Initially, Aubrey booked a large cabin in Tennessee with the idea of making her wedding a full weekend event. But after having lunch at Starved Rock Lodge, in Oglesby, Ill., she revised her plans.
“The second I walked in I just knew that this was the perfect place to have the wedding,” she says.
That very day, she booked the venue for Dec. 15, 2018.
Once the day arrived, Aubrey was pleasantly surprised that her wish for a whole weekend event panned out. On Friday night, the guests gathered at the Lodge’s Back Door Lounge to enjoy live music, drinks and dinner.
“It was so amazing to see all of my favorite people combined in one place,” Aubrey says. Guests stayed up late, enjoying the Lodge’s comfy couches in front of a large fireplace.
The wedding day was a long and happy occasion, from mimosas in the morning to an afternoon ceremony at Saint Mary’s Parish to dancing the night away at the Lodge.
“The whole experience was magical,” Aubrey says. “We had an open bar all night and it was so reasonably priced I couldn’t believe it. Once the reception ended, we all headed right back to the Back Door Lounge for another hour of fun, laughter and love.”
On Sunday, the newlyweds hosted a brunch for their guests.
“My whole dream of having everyone in one central place for a whole weekend perfectly came true at Starved Rock Lodge,” Aubrey says. “My husband and I stayed for a couple more days, and it was such a special way to start our new life together.” – LG
A Second Home
Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford
The Burpee Museum of Natural History means a lot to Rachel Seger. While growing up in Rockford, she went to the museum often, especially for special events like Paleofest and the Burpee for Animal Hours. She was even there for the unveiling of the new location when the museum moved to Riverfront Museum Park.
“It was like a second home to me,” Rachel says.
So when she got engaged to Marc Ruiz – a Streamwood, Ill., native who she met through mutual friends – it was a no-brainer that they’d choose the Burpee for their wedding ceremony and reception.
The proposal was simple, but sweet.
“We were at our home getting ready to run a few errands, and he just knelt down and proposed,” Rachel recalls. “He said he felt it was the right time.”
The couple were married on Nov. 17, 2018. They booked the venue a year in advance.
Rachel appreciated the way Burpee provided unique entertainment for wedding guests.
“They were able to roam the museum while enjoying the wedding festivities,” she says. “Everyone had a wonderful time.”
The couple included some special dinosaur-themed touches in the decor in honor of the location.
Throughout the wedding planning process, Rachel relied on the Burpee staff to help with “anything and everything.”
“They went above and beyond to help our day go off without a hitch,” she says. “The staff was very friendly and available to answer all the questions we had before and during the big day.”
The museum has a variety of rooms to utilize, depending on the total number of wedding guests. Rachel and Marc decided to host their festivities in the Mahlburg Auditorium, which impresses with high ceilings and large windows. Under normal circumstances, the space, located right off the front entrance, is ideal for about 150 guests.
Smaller rooms are available for more intimate weddings, while The Riverview Room & Terrace, located on the riverfront, can normally accommodate up to 250 guests.
Now that the Barnes Mansion has been restored to its Victorian glory, couples can use the space for photo shoots and/or pre-ceremony preparations.
“I feel like most venues don’t offer those kinds of options,” Rachel says.
The couple continued the magic of their wedding day with a honeymoon in Disney World. They’ll certainly be back to the Burpee Museum to make even more memories together. – LG
Byron Forest Preserve, Byron, Ill.
After 2.5 years of dating, Seth McCammond was ready to propose to Marta.
The couple had met while working at a pet store.
“We clicked right away,” Marta says. “Talking to each other was easy – we had similar interests and the same sense of humor.”
On March 12, 2016, Seth organized a family game night at his parents’ house. His siblings and grandparents were there, in addition to Marta’s family. During a game of Pictionary, it was Seth’s turn to draw and Marta’s turn to guess.
“I wasn’t able to figure it out,” Marta recalls. “I happened to look up and everyone’s phones were out – weird – but I started to guess again. He drew a hand, a circle, a ring… ‘Oh! It’s a ring!’”
The guess was correct, and both families cheered.
“I looked back to Seth and he was down on one knee, with a box in his hand and a gorgeous sapphire ring inside it,” Marta says. They both teared up as she accepted his proposal.
The couple were married on Sept. 23, 2017, at Byron Forest Preserve, Byron, Ill. Their ceremony was held under two trees that formed a natural arch on the front lawn, and their reception was held at the Jarrett Prairie Center in the newly renovated museum and on the 2,600-square-foot wrap-around deck that overlooks 400 acres of prairie.
“The Jarrett Prairie Center was great for the reception because it offered indoor and outdoor spaces,” Marta says. “Our guests could go inside to cool down and get drinks, while the deck offered fresh air and picturesque views of the prairie.”
To make things even better, the sun was setting during their first dance as a married couple.
“The Byron Forest Preserve staff were always available to answer questions and go over all of the details,” Marta says. “Just step outside on the deck and take in that wonderful view. You’ll be sold right away.” – LG
Maxon Riverboat and Riverside Restaurant, Oregon, Ill.
Samm Hinrichs developed a master plan when she met Ken Dawson, through mutual friends, at a haunted house.
“She pretended to ‘lose’ her phone so I could get her number to help find it,” Ken says. “I was attracted to her eyes, amazing looks and personality. She’s very easygoing and fun to be around. We hit it off right away.”
After a year of dating, the couple acknowledged they had a serious connection and hoped eventually to get married. Ken bought a ring, but the “right moment” to propose never seemed to arrive.
Five months passed as Ken waited for a special, romantic opportunity. Finally, he crafted a master plan of his own.
“The proposal was quite an ordeal,” says Ken. “I ran through idea after idea, but they never worked out. Something always came up to make me cancel. Finally, I secretly booked a private wine room at Franchesco’s Ristorante, in Rockford. I played it off like it was a mistake on the restaurant’s end. I had the ring tucked in the side of my sock, and after ordering food and drinks, I took a knee next to her and proposed. She said yes, obviously, and that she knew something was up.”
The No. 1 priority when searching for a wedding venue was finding a location with a waterfront view. The couple was thrilled to find Maxson Riverboat and Riverside Restaurant, in Oregon, for their June 25, 2016, wedding. A longtime favorite for casual dining, banquets and dinner cruises on the Rock River, Maxson had the beautiful views the couple hoped for. And, it was close to Polo, where Ken grew up and where the couple lived.
“We booked about nine or 10 months in advance, just because we knew it was the place and we wanted to have it,” Ken says.
Under normal circumstances, the venue can accommodate 110 people on its paddleboat, 250 on the sprawling pavilion and gazebo, and 280 in the restaurant.
Ken especially enjoyed that the whole wedding party could arrive at the reception by boat.
“Samm and I love being on the water, and arriving by boat made our wedding more unique,” Ken says. “Don’t be afraid to ask the owners any questions you have – they are willing to work with you to make everything just as you want.”
The couple also got the pizza and pasta bar they wanted, even though pizza isn’t offered on the menu.
Everything was made in house. The Maxson’s staff also ordered specific alcohol that the couple requested, provided containers for leftover cupcakes and kept leftover wedding cake overnight in the fridge.
“They went above and beyond what we could have asked for,” Ken says. “All of the guests said the venue was beautiful and that the food was amazing. We couldn’t have been happier with the service and how the whole process went.” – LG