By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
Just this past June, Lisa Elkins began to realize a longstanding dream, that of opening a genuine Southern wedding venue in Athens, Alabama. Lisa is a Florida native with an “Athens attachment” - her daughter and grandchildren live here, and her sister Tammy Jones works with the property manager of the Gilbert family land holdings. Lisa’s niece lives right behind the elegant plantation that for several years has been known as Madelyn’s in the Grove. “Let me know the minute it becomes available, if it ever does,” Lisa would tell Tammy, and when it popped up for lease in May, Lisa was ready to move. She retired from 27 years at Oldcastle Lawn and Garden Supply in Florida, and relocated here. Her husband Richard owns an auto supply store in Florida, and backed her bold move with blessing as well as financial investment. “I absolutely could not take this risk if it weren’t for Richard, Tammy, my family and my friends. I am so grateful I can hardly express it,” she told me heartily. The whole crew has worked for months from sunup to nightfall to get the house and grounds at 1005 Elkton Street in Athens ready to open this fall.
Captain T.L. Wells owned the first home on the property, which unfortunately burned down. The property we see today with its long drive, gorgeous oaks, eight fireplaces, stained glass windows, beveled glass doors, old-style porch swing and sturdy wooden Amish rockers was purchased by the Gilbert family in 1908. They have owned it ever since. In Captain Wells honor, Lisa decided to name her business Welleswood Wedding Venue, but her dream is much greater than for weddings only. “I love people, and I love bringing people together. I want this place to be busy with weddings, family reunions, bridal showers, baby showers, high teas, seasonal and holiday events, and more,” she said.
For many years in Florida, Lisa had an event business on the side, and in preparation for “going big,” she began to collect all manner of event supplies from elegant serving pieces to Royal Albert china, to linens, to silver tea and coffee sets, to holiday decorations to theme props. She is ready for just about anything!
On Monday, August 21, which is the same day as the total solar eclipse, Lisa is going to have her Open House/ Soft Opening from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors will be able to come tour the grounds, get some information, see what’s possible, dream some, enjoy refreshments, and wish her well in her new endeavor. On Thursday, September 7, at 4 p.m. she will have both a ribbon cutting ceremony through the Chamber of Commerce, as well as a Grand Opening celebration immediately following. The Grand Opening will feature wedding and event planners, Jeannie Pirtle of Nip and Tuck Florist, Keith Zemnes of KBZ Photography, Metropolitan Disc Jockey and Special Event Lighting, wedding cake, and more!
The upstairs at Welleswood is ready for the bridal party, and is beautifully appointed. The bride has her own dressing room, the bridesmaids have theirs, there are several vanities in each room for applying makeup, and a salon chair for doing hair. “Most often the guys want to get dressed somewhere else,” Lisa said, “but if they want to do that here, we can pull the doors to the parlor closed, and they will have plenty of room to get ready and still not see the bride and bridesmaids.”
Many couples get married between the columns at the top of the steps, and the stairs function as perfect descending staging for the wedding party. Some prefer to tie the knot at the bottom of the steps; some enjoy saying their vows between the oaks or in the garden. Whatever the outdoor configuration, Lisa has 150 white wedding chairs as well as 15 round tables and linens for outside on the lawn. For an indoor wedding, a party of 75 can be comfortably accommodated, and Lisa is very flexible, ready to meet the needs of her guests.
As I sat out on the expansive wraparound porch in one of the Amish rockers interviewing Lisa and meeting Tammy, I was overwhelmed with the sense of timelessness and peace that pervades Welleswood. I felt as though I had stepped back in time to an era when people were not in so much of a hurry and took the time to fully enjoy what the French call ambience, the “character or atmosphere of a place.” The trees, the songs of the birds, the horses next door, the porch swing, all of it made me wish I could be the mother of the bride one more time. Add to that Lisa’s commitment to truly serve her guests and be present and prepared for anything, and I truly believe Welleswood Wedding Venue is going to soar.
By: Ali ElizabethTurner