Wedding Dreams: A Bride’s Inside Guide

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, our area offers some spectacular options. Here, we highlight some of our favorites, and share the experience of couples who recently said, “I do.”

Franchesco’s Ristorante | Rockford, IL

Molly and Drew Peterson met in a college physics class when they became lab partners. They hit it off right away, but Drew never worked up the courage to ask Molly out. So, Molly took matters into her own hands.

“I was very impatient waiting for him to make a move, so after a month-and-a-half, I got the courage to ask him out,” Molly says. “After our first date, we were inseparable.”

After four years of dating, Drew got on one knee and proposed in the couples’ Chicago apartment.

They planned their wedding in 10 months, even though they weren’t physically together. Molly was finishing her doctorate of physical therapy at the University of Missouri, so they started the planning process while she was in Missouri and Drew was back home in Illinois.

Born and raised in Rockford, Molly always had a dream of getting married at St. Peter Cathedral, and she wanted a fun venue to have her reception. That’s when she reached out to Kim Salamone at Franchesco’s Ristorante, in Rockford.

“I had spent many a Halloween, Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve with the Salamone family,” Molly says.
Franchesco’s has ample space for the perfect wedding, with banquet rooms, modern decor, audio-visual equipment and top-notch professional Chauvet lighting.

Brides who get married at Franchesco’s will be treated like a beautiful princess.

“Creating remarkable memories is our top priority,” says Michelle LaMay, general manager. “Your wedding experience is more than an event to us; it’s the start of your family. We’ll walk you through the process from the start all the way through the finishing touches.”

LaMay says couples should typically book their wedding 12 to 18 months in advance.

“If we have availability on your date, we can make a wedding come together perfectly in less than six months,” she says. “We’ll assist you in every step of the way, including recommending top vendors in every wedding category.”

While Molly was busy studying, her mother and Salamone began planning the wedding.

“They were boots on the ground,” Molly says. “Planning my wedding with my mom meant everything to me.”
It was equally important because Molly’s mom passed away after a 27-year battle with breast cancer.

“Throughout the planning process, she was my champion,” Molly says. “She had an emergency tumor removed from her brain only 28 days before I walked down the aisle. My wedding was her vision with my flair. She had incredible taste and could envision a room before it was even put together.”

Molly says working with Franchesco’s made the wedding planning process fun and stress-free. Franchesco’s kept the couple on a timeline, which Molly says she needed to get everything done.

“They had a solution to any problem and handled every challenge or change with grace,” Molly says. “Kim also had suggestions of different vendors to work with and who worked well with Franchesco’s, which was incredibly helpful.”

During the reception, the couple danced the night away. “Let’s Stay Together,” by Al Green, blared in the background while the couple shared their first dance.

Whenever she comes back to Rockford, Molly makes a point to stop in Franchesco’s to meet the staff and reminisce about the best day of her life.

“Looking back on it, there isn’t one thing that I would do differently,” Molly says. – JP

(Hidden Creek photo)

Hidden Creek Estates | Roscoe, IL

Tucked away between 30 acres of beautiful farmland near Roscoe, Ill., lies one of the area’s newest and best-kept secrets at Hidden Creek Estates.

The 30-acre former farmstead at 13276 White School Road, Roscoe, has been lovingly restored and transformed into a social events venue. It boasts a lovely Airbnb referred to as “the cottage,” a wine bar, a restored yellow barn and many scenic, peaceful views.

Hidden Creek Estates is owned by Kerry and Dude Frank. They live nearby and scooped up the property before it could be sold to developers for a subdivision, thus preserving original farm buildings, over 150 years of history and 2 miles of walking trails.

The idea of creating a private fairytale for soon-to-be newlyweds began during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Kerry’s sister had her wedding venue cancel at the last minute. The Frank family offered their new property as an alternative. Not long after, the Franks helped two other family friends host their weddings, as well. Word spread quickly, and interest has continued to grow since the estate’s grand opening.

Welcoming guests with warm hospitality and exceptional service is just the start. Couples are invited to say their vows under the canopy of 150-year-old trees at a secluded ceremony site with views of the estate’s spring-fed pond.

While the bride and groom take wedding photos around the property, guests can stroll the grounds or head to the lovingly restored barn and its wine bar for cocktail hour. The Hidden Creek Wine Bar, built in late 2020, combines social occasions with Kerry and Dude’s extensive international travel and love for travel, food and wine.

The 1920s-inspired vintage speakeasy is located in the lower level of the yellow barn and is perfect for receptions and cocktail hours. Hidden Creek’s staff is experienced in the wine industry and can make many suggestions for the perfect wine.

Dance the night away under the estate’s antique, 10-foot chandelier suspended from the upper level of the restored barn.

While weddings are an obvious choice at Hidden Creek Estates, it’s also poised for social gatherings, corporate events and other special occasions. The elegant cottage has three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a fully stocked kitchen for weekend retreats. Families and friends are invited for wine tastings, girls’ weekends and romantic getaways.

For more information on this venue, or to place a reservation, visit – SA

(Mark Peterson photo)

Burpee Museum of Natural History | Rockford, IL

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. 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 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. – LGL

(Hannah Persson photo)

Starved Rock Lodge | Oglesby, IL

It might seem a tad overwhelming to plan a wedding in five weeks.

But when you’re already in the event-planning industry – and you know who you want to work with – it’s a little easier.

Natalie DeRoss, director of event sales and catering at Galleria Marchetti, an events venue in Chicago, recently married the man of her dreams, Adam DeRoss, a Will County Forest Preserve IT specialist, at Starved Rock Lodge, in Oglesby, Ill.

The Plainfield, Ill., couple connected last summer with help from the bride and groom’s sisters, Jessica Madonia, Kelly Jourdan and Katie DeRoss.

The two talked for hours during their first date, Natalie recalls.

“We just really, really clicked,” she says. “Within a few months, we were talking about getting married and having kids.

“When you meet during a pandemic … and if you can quarantine with someone, that’s special.”

Earlier this year, the couple visited Starved Rock Lodge on Natalie’s birthday, March 7. It was a place they thought could be the perfect wedding venue.

“I’ve been there before; I’ve hiked the trails,” Natalie says. “Starved Rock is definitely a place I’ve had my eye on for a long time.”

Natalie liked the log cabin feel of the Lodge and she knew the ceremony could take place outdoors with the forest as a natural backdrop. Add in the ease she immediately felt with working with Jennifer Roulson, director of sales and marketing, and their banquet captain, Tony Schneider, and she was sold.

Later that day, the couple went ring shopping. Soon after, the two were engaged and planning their April 24, 2021 wedding.

“I asked my mom, Laura Figaro, if she thought we were rushing into things, and she said, ‘That’s you, Natalie – once you know and make up your mind, there’s no changing it,” Natalie says.

The couple chose the Lodge’s enhanced hors d’oeuvres option, but requested a few extra dishes for their guests, including lollipop lamb chops and barbecue pulled pork bruschetta.

The couple also asked for an additional course.

“I think they thought a separate pasta course was a lot at first, as the portions are large at Starved Rock, but I told them we had hungry Italians, and we sure ate everything – even the late-night food, which was amazing,” Katie says.

The food stood out, but the rest of the wedding weekend was just as memorable.

“We had a dream team of vendors,” says Natalie, noting there were no issues with bringing in outside vendors for things such as lighting, sweets and flowers. “I knew who I wanted to work with. That made everything easy and doable in five weeks.”

The entire celebration took place at Starved Rock Lodge – the rehearsal dinner, the ceremony/reception, the photos and a brunch the next morning. The destination created an intimate atmosphere for the 50 attendees, most of whom stayed in cabins on site or at the Lodge’s hotel.

“In the city, we would’ve been trekking around from location to location … and I just didn’t want to do that,” Katie adds. “I wanted everything to be easy.”

So did her husband.

“I loved how easy Starved Rock made everything, and I appreciated having everything in one spot surrounded by nature,” Adam says.

The happy couple are expecting a baby boy in November. – SG

(UnPosed Photography photo)

Goldmoor Inn | Galena, IL

Eliza Collins thought she found the perfect venue for her wedding. But when the pandemic turned life upside down, she had to find a Plan B.

“The location I previously picked had several restrictions that were going to hamper our big day,” she says. “We needed to do something different.”

She couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

On June 5, 2021, Eliza married her college sweetheart, Sean. The couple met as students at Hillsdale College, in Michigan. Eliza, a Huntley, Ill., native, and Sean called Minneapolis, Minn., home.

In June 2020, Sean surprised Eliza when he proposed surrounded by family and friends in a park in Galena, Ill., where she grew up.

The couple tied the knot at Goldmoor Inn, in Galena. The Goldmoor Inn is a castle-like bed-and-breakfast that sits on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and a nearby horse farm. The site is surrounded by wooded terrain and attractive gardens and flower beds.

“It’s a one-of-a-type venue,” says Birgit Radin, who purchased the property with her husband, Slobo, in 2015. The German natives share a passion for travel, cuisine and hospitality. The Goldmoor Inn hosts between 15 and 20 weddings a year, ranging from elopements to celebrations for up to 150 guests.

The Goldmoor Inn offers a number of options – both indoors and outdoors – for wedding celebrations. There’s the Gazebo overlooking the Mississippi River, the Pavilion, Grand Hall or one of the many stunning landscaped areas on the property. The Goldmoor Inn features 18 suites and a full-service restaurant that is also open to the public. Radin recommends booking a year in advance, but smaller weddings can be planned on shorter notice.

As the wedding coordinator, Radin handles every detail for the bride and groom. She works with the bride on everything from date, guest count and food to decorations, photographer, music and even licensing.

“My goal when we meet is to have her walk away not worrying about anything,” says Radin. “I want her to know that she’s in good hands and everything will be fine.”

That was certainly the case for Eliza.

“Birgit was super helpful. The day of my wedding, I didn’t have to do anything but just show up,” says Eliza. “She handled all of the big things, and that was a huge stress reliever for me.”

For Eliza, the biggest selling point for Goldmoor Inn was the opportunity to have an outdoor wedding that could accommodate her 100 guests. Collins had originally planned to have an indoor wedding.

“The Goldmoor Inn was the only place I considered doing an outdoor wedding, and fortunately the weather was perfect,” she says.

As was the backdrop for her special occasion. “I was blown away how beautiful the set up was – from the covered chairs on the lawn to the meal at the reception,” she says. “The entire day was free-flowing and comfortable, and the setting was beautiful. Many of our guests told me that it was the best wedding they ever attended.”

The wedding was just one part of a whirlwind summer for the couple. They graduated from college in the spring, got married, honeymooned in Costa Rica and then packed up their belongings and moved to Tuscaloosa, Ala., where Sean is starting law school. Eliza is beginning her new job as a Spanish teacher at a private school.

Says Eliza: “It’s been a hectic few months, but it’s all been worth it.” – PAA

(Robert San Juan photo)

Byron Forest Preserve District | Byron, IL

Jenny and Garrett Henderson can trace their love story to middle school. Back then, they were just friends. Five years after high school, things turned romantic after Jenny messaged her old friend.

The two hit it off right away and things soon got serious. Garrett surprised Jenny with an intimate proposal at home.

“I didn’t want it to happen with us having all of the attention; it kind of just happened in the moment,” Jenny says. “It was absolutely perfect.”

Five years after they started dating, the two were married on May 7, 2021, at the Byron Forest Preserve District in Byron, Ill.

The choice in venue was an easy one, in part because it was close to home for Jenny, a member of the Byron Fire Department, and Garrett, who serves on the Byron Police Department.

The forest preserve offers several wedding packages that accommodate a couple’s needs and budget. Options range from outdoor to indoor settings like Jarrett Prairie Center.

For the Hendersons, the biggest selling point was the beautiful deck at Jarrett Prairie Center. This was one of the first weddings of the year, and the deck ensured the party would continue despite any COVID-19 restrictions.

Since it was a smaller wedding with only about 40 guests, the venue more than accommodated the couple’s needs.

“We wanted to have a smaller wedding because we wanted to make sure we’d be able to get around to everyone and thank them for coming,” Jennifer says. “In the end, I thought it worked out perfectly because we were able to talk to everyone all while sharing our special day together with our loved ones.” – SA

Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden | Rockford, IL

It was love at first sight when Megan Rush and Michael Buchman met.

“The person who actually introduced us is the same person who married us – our officiate Kyle Arwood,” Meg says. 

 During a trip to Colorado, Mike pulled off a big surprise. “We set off to hike through the park with a couple of our close friends. Toward the end of the hike, when the sun was setting, Mike dropped on one knee and proposed,” Meg recalls.  

The Illinois natives looked for a wedding and reception venue close to home. They toured several places before deciding on Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Rockford.

“The main thing that drew us to this venue was the beautiful setting and privacy it provided,” Meg says. “We wanted it to feel like we weren’t even in Rockford during the wedding. We got married on June 15 and the grounds were absolutely amazing.”

A flowing water fountain added a nice touch during the couple’s ceremony, which took place right on the grounds. Guests mingled indoors and out during the reception. 

“The patio was a pure delight for so many people,” Meg says. “If our guests got too warm outside, they just came back in to cool down.”

Meg encourages future brides to “just ask” if they have any questions while planning a wedding at Klehm Arboretum. 

“They’re eager to help with whatever you need,” she says.

New this year, Franchesco’s Ristorante now manages all special events at Klehm Arboretum, including event management and catering. Interested brides can reach out directly to Franchesco’s. – LGL

(Brandy Swartz photo)

The Barn at Hornbaker Gardens | Princeton, IL

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

(Mitch and Rachel Visuals photo)

Rockford Women’s Club | Rockford, IL

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

(Danielle Marie photo)

Lincoln Way: A Destination Inn | Franklin Grove, IL

On a chilly night in November 2013, Melissa met Marcelo Azevedo at a Brazilian steakhouse in Chicago. Marcelo was tending the bar, and Melissa was drawn to him right away.

Like something out of a movie, Melissa wrote her number on a cocktail napkin and slipped it to him before she left. The very next day, she heard back from Marcelo.

The bartender proposed nearly five years later, while they were alone on the rooftop of their building watching the sunset.

When it came time to plan the big day, the Chicago residents knew they wanted a venue outside the city – one where they and their guests could enjoy a private, outdoor setting. They were hooked when they found just what they wanted at Lincoln Way: A Destination Inn, in Franklin Grove, Ill.

The boutique, eco-friendly inn is set within an elegantly restored home, and its small-town charm is just the start of its many amenities.

“Lincoln Way checked off all of the boxes,” says Melissa.

The couple were married in September 2019 with about 100 people in attendance.

“Lincoln Way took care of so much of the planning, preparation and details,” says Melissa. “Their outstanding management and organization made it a breeze for me to hire other vendors needed.”

As Melissa and Marcelo look back on their experience, their only suggestion to future couples would be to make as long a weekend as possible. Since Lincoln Way is a destination experience as well as a five-star inn, it offers a perfect starting point for the honeymoon. – BH

Boone County Museum of History | Belvidere, IL

When it comes to planning a wedding, every woman wants a day to remember.

For Emily Banks, and Jake Judisch, the date April 14, 2018, was extra special because they were the first couple to be married at Boone County Museum, in Belvidere.

“We couldn’t have asked for anything more,” says Emily, who works in child care. “It was beautiful, comfortable, affordable, easily accessible and the staff was so accommodating.”

The venue also had special significance for Emily. Her great-aunt and -uncle were Melvin and Mildred Banks, the namesake of the museum’s natural history room. Mildred’s love of photography and Melvin’s interest in county conservation are two legacies forever remembered at the museum.

Emily and Jake met on a dating website. They dated for a while then broke it off because they were still in school. When the time was right, Emily reached out to Jake and there was no looking back.

“I never dreamed of having a wedding and getting married until I met him,” Emily says. “I can’t imagine life without him, and although we’ve been married only three years, I feel like we’ve always been together.”
When the couple first saw the museum, they knew it was love at first sight.

“We needed something large and beautiful, and when you walk into that room, the milky glass windows let in a lot of good, natural light for pictures, even on a cloudy day,” Emily says.

The museum made special accommodations, like keeping Emily’s wedding dress on site so she could change right before the wedding. Since the big day, several other couples have been married at the museum.

“I was a learning experience for them because I was the first, but no one would’ve ever known because everything was so perfect,” Emily says. – PW

(Belvidere Park District photo)

Baltic Mill | Belvidere, IL

The Baltic Mill’s unique, natural setting welcomes couples who want an outdoor celebration for their wedding day. The historic area, owned by the Belvidere Park District, provides a backdrop of calming greenery for ceremonies.

The venue currently focuses on holding ceremonies in an outdoor setting – perfect for any couple looking for a beautiful setting on a budget.

The Baltic Mill offers four wedding packages for brides and grooms to choose from. Each package includes a three-hour time block for ceremonies to commence in an area with a stage and hillside seating for guests.

Larger packages include a conference room and rehearsal time for the night before. An on-site weddingcoordinator is available for all packages.

Reservations are taken on a first-come, first-paid basis, with various times available on weekends and throughout the week. The Belvidere Park District requests that couples book the Baltic Mill at least 90 days prior to the event. However, the Belvidere Park District is willing to accommodate couples with any last-minute requests if dates are available.

The venue has anywhere from 20-40 weddings per year – a significant amount considering that the season is only from April to October. The space can hold 300 guests, all on natural limestone seating. Those interested in seeing the facility can call and schedule a tour. – NWQ

(Erica Pospeshil Photography photo)

Maxson Riverboat and Riverside Restaurant | Oregon, IL

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 crafteda 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 venue was finding a waterfront view. The couple was thrilled to find Maxson Riverboat and Riverside Restaurant, in Oregon, Ill.., 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, Ill., 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.” – LGL