For most of our state's history, Michigan barns primarily have hosted horses munching hay or farmers milking cows. Today, however, they can also house all sorts of events, from weddings to team-building corporate retreats.
To plan a barn event, there’s no need to grab your overalls and pitchfork. Today’s barns have all of the amenities you’d expect to find in many banquet halls, along with charming historical touches.
At the 10-acre Cobblestone Farms, in Kingsley, planners can book the 2,400-square-foot, western-themed barn that also boasts a 3,000-square-foot wraparound porch and deck.
Inside the barn are the OK Corral, a space for a disc jockey or band; the Saloon, for serving drinks; the Country Store, a snacks station; the Sheriff’s Office and Jail, a game room with a flat-screen television and bumper pool; the Bank, for taking photos; and the Hotel, with single-sex bathrooms. A large tent accommodates diners. Outdoors, Cobblestone guests can stroll the grounds and enjoy horseshoes, cornhole boards, ladder ball, a giant Jenga game and two fire pits.
Planned for Cobblestone is a second barn, slated to be completed in May 2017. Unlike the old barn, the new one will have a heating and cooling system that will let proprietors Bill and Toni Sweet book events year-round. “The old barn is kind of what I would consider a party barn,” says Bill Sweet. “The new barn’s still going to be a rustic, country barn, but it’s going to be a banquet hall on steroids.”
The Sweets also plan to convert the property’s 100-year-old farmhouse, and provide overnight accommodations to brides. A previous owner completely replaced the house’s plumbing, electrical system and windows. “It will be kind of like renting a house for the weekend,” Sweet says.
If planners want an even wider vista than Cobblestone’s 10 acres, they can head north to the Cathedral Barn at Historic Barns Park. The park covers a 56-acre corner of Traverse City’s Grand Traverse Commons, the site of a former state psychiatric hospital that’s been turned into a living, dining and commercial hot spot, but that also has hiking trails, rolling meadows, forest and a botanic garden. The garden is planted with shrubs, perennials, trees and bulbs, bringing to life a landscape plan by internationally known designer Warren Byrd.
The Cathedral is 3,535 square feet, with a geothermal heating and cooling system to accommodate year-round rentals, and also includes restrooms and a kitchen.
The kitchen isn’t available for cooking, says Allison Beers, owner of Events North, an event planning firm in Traverse City. Beers is managing the Cathedral Barn until a permanent manager is identified. “But caterers have brought a grill and grilled on-site,” she says. Events can spill over to the botanic garden, where guests can mingle and sip cocktails before having dinner inside. The indoor accommodations can host a sit-down dinner for 200, or a reception for 399, the legal occupancy limit. A flat lawn adjacent to the barn is large enough for planners to rent a tent to expand the covered area.
All music inside the barn must end at 11 p.m.; the curfew for outdoor entertainment is an hour earlier.
The Traverse City area has a great need for spaces that can hold more than 200 people, says Beers, a factor that’s contributed to the barn’s success with bookings. “Without even telling people we’re open, we’re almost booked for the summer,” she says. “I can’t believe it.”
Apparently the Benton Harbor-St. Joseph area has a need for venues too, considering Amy and Kirby Briske operate three bookable spaces there—two of them barns. In addition to their newly opened Sundance Studios, a 4,000-square-foot venue for 175 guests in downtown Millburg, the Briskes operate the Blue Dress and Mill Creek barns. Each building has a 250-guest capacity, and the couple supplies event “hardware” such as an outdoor fire pit, tables, a podium, twinkle lights and more.
Mill Creek, in Watervliet, has two rooms in a “T” formation, and sits on 17 isolated and attractive acres. “The grounds are developed with a lot of rock wall gardens, so it’s very pretty,” says Kirby Briske, who notes that he can supply vendor lists for each venue.
Blue Dress, in Benton Harbor, features two outdoor decks and sits on 6 acres of a former dairy farm operated by the House of David religious sect.
Why is it called the Blue Dress?
“My wife has various stories,” Briske says, “but I think the real story is ... we put up pictures on the walls and 99 percent of them had blue dresses.”