Central Ohio venues with a little something extra to offer

This story first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Columbus Weddings, published December 2018.

Everyone wants their wedding to stand out, and who can blame them? This day is among the biggest days in a couple’s shared life, so it only makes sense that it should be memorable in its uniqueness. And while the personal details of your day—from carrying an heirloom handkerchief as your “something old” to an impeccably choreographed first dance—will make your day unique in its own right, a one-of-a-kind venue can help take things to the next level.

A Piece of History

Head to Delaware to host your wedding in The Barn at Stratford. Built in 1848, the structure was most recently used as an auction house for Garths from 1948 to 2015. It was converted to an event venue and educational facility the following year.

Also on the property, says venue manager Connie Hoffman, is the historic Meeker House, a two-story brick building built in 1820 that now serves as a museum and a space for brides to dress on their big day.

History buffs who want to offer their guests a special treat can rent the museum by making a donation to the Delaware County Historical Society, which owns and operates the facility, allowing guests to take docent tours during cocktail hour. “That’s a very popular thing that we do,” Hoffman says.

This year, The Barn at Stratford started offering another feature, inspired in part by Eliza and Justin Lee, whose June 2, 2018, wedding included a surprise element coordinated by Justin’s father and Eliza.

A mutual friend of the Hoffman and the Lee families, Diane Winters, co-owns All Win Stables with her partner, Pat Allen. The pair recently acquired a former Budweiser Clydesdale, which Justin’s father and Eliza hired to draw a carriage on the big day—unbeknownst to Justin.

Winters acted as chauffer, with Allen leading the Clydesdale as an extra precaution, to deliver Eliza and her father to the outdoor ceremony.

“I don’t usually get surprises pulled off on me,” Justin says. “When she pulled around, I couldn’t believe it.” The gentle giant was a huge draw among guests, the Lees note, as well as for other couples. “Connie put pictures up,” after the wedding, Eliza says, and requests for the horse and carriage came quickly. They were back on the property within two weeks.

Next year, The Barn at Stratford will have another new element: riverfront weddings. A half-acre of land was donated to the historical society to allow for an expansion of the property’s museum, Hoffman says, and plans for a pergola or another outdoor structure are in the works to accommodate outdoor ceremonies.

“A horse-drawn carriage going over to the river would be wonderful,” Hoffman notes.

Furry Friends

Animals are, of course, the main attraction at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. For couples who host their weddings there, those same animals provide an exclusive experience unlike any other in Central Ohio.

“When you book your wedding at the zoo, included are our animals that visit during your cocktail hour,” says wedding group sales representative Amanda Januzzi. “It’s one of the aspects that makes our location unique.” She’s referring to the zoo’s animal ambassadors—special critters that make guest appearances at various zoo events. While there’s no guarantee as to which animals will show up at your event, due to their various schedules and availability, the most popular and common visitors include baby kangaroos and cats, sloths and penguins. “They’re dressed for the occasion, so of course we try to get them there,” Januzzi says.

The animal ambassadors were the main reason that Stow residents Courtney and Mike Marsden chose to wed at the zoo, which they had never even visited until they started searching for wedding venues.

“We are from the Northeast Ohio area, so our local zoos are in Cleveland and Akron,” Courtney says. “We only looked at Cleveland as a potential venue. Don’t get me wrong; the Cleveland Zoo has a lot to offer, but the animal experience at the Columbus Zoo really made it stand out!”

At the Columbus Zoo, the animal ambassadors visit for 30 minutes, Januzzi explains. They first meet privately with the newlyweds for portraits before joining guests during the cocktail hour. “Our guests loved getting to see the animals … people still talk to us about how the penguin entered and did a beeline to the bar!” Courtney says.

Another perk of the Columbus Zoo for the Marsdens was that the Africa Event Center overlooks the African savanna exhibit. “[Our guests] thought the landscape was beautiful and could not believe how neat it was to see animals walking around as the backdrop during the ceremony and cocktail hour,” Courtney says.

Also available for weddings is the option to add on a 30-minute giraffe feeding experience for an additional fee, says Januzzi. “Keepers will bring the giraffes over to a special section of the patio of the Africa Event Center, so guests don’t have to go anywhere other than the actual venue itself. And then they get to feed the giraffes off the patio.”

Couples who opt to hold their events in the zoo’s other venues—the Lakeside Pavilion and Water’s Edge Boardwalk—aren’t able to include the giraffe experience, but their guests do get the bonus of walking through the zoo to get to the venue, allowing them to view some of the animals en route. 

And at Water’s Edge, couples can rent the carousel for guests to use after the zoo closes. “That’s a neat additional thing for your guests to do while they’re here,” Jannuzi says.

Down to a Science

“A lot of times when people choose COSI as a venue, they’re looking for one of two options,” says event sales manager Savannah Ranz. “They’re looking for the museum side—so something interactive, like having a cocktail hour in one of our exhibits or a custom planetarium show for the ceremony—or they’re looking for that view of the city.”

COSI’s position along the Scioto River affords a dramatic view of the LeVeque Tower and other noteworthy Downtown Columbus buildings, but it’s the museum’s offerings that really set the venue apart.

The planetarium, which seats 211, is an ideal spot for a ceremony to remember. There, couples work with the theater technician to create a custom show.

“You can decide, I want the sun to rise as we walk down the aisle, or I want two asteroids to collide at our first kiss,” Ranz says. “And we can pull up any night sky that’s ever happened in Columbus. So if there’s a date that’s of significance—like the day they got engaged, the day they met—we can pull that night sky up.”

Cocktail hour can take place in any exhibit space except the American Museum of Natural History galleries, meaning drinks on the Progress exhibit’s Main Street or hors d’oeuvres among the colorful Ocean exhibit’s fountains are easily arranged. “Guests can experience everything that they’d be able to experience in an exhibit during the day,” Ranz says.

For dinner, the atrium—the central room with the high-wire unicycle and swinging pendulum—is a popular spot, Ranz says. “One thing that’s fun in this space is we have our glass elevator, so we can take brides and grooms up a back way to the third floor. Then, for their grand entrance, they can come down in that glass elevator.”

If you’re still looking for something extra, couples can arrange for COSI’s Science Carts—portable science demonstrations that range from basketball-playing rats to chemistry experiments—to be available during cocktail hour or open dancing at the reception, Ranz says.

In the Treetops

While The Grand Barn at The Mohicans in Glenmont is a beautiful venue, the property gets most of its individuality from the tiny treehouse cabins scattered around it. The first treehouses, built by Pete Nelson of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters, sparked property owners Kevin and Laura Mooney to invest in this interesting style of accommodations. The Mohicans currently has six treehouses, with more on the way.

“We’ll continue to build treehouses,” Laura says. “We’ve been averaging one a year.”

The Moonlight treehouse, built in 2016, is a favorite among newlyweds. “It has, I guess, a romantic feel [down] to the fabrics and the design inside,” says Laura, who does the all of the interior design herself.

The newest treehouse, called the Tin Shed in a nod both to its corrugated metal exterior and a favorite Portland haunt of one of the Mooneys’ sons, is accessed via a 25-foot, steel spiral staircase and a swaying, 100-foot suspension bridge.

Other treehouses include the Little Red and White Oak, both built by Nelson for Treehouse Masters; the Nest, designed by renowned treehouse builder Roderick Romero; and the Old Pine, which was built with 100 percent reclaimed materials and has a charming wooden swing dangling under it—perfect for newlyweds’ portraits.

The treehouses can accommodate up to 20 guests all together; four cabins on the property offer an additional 40-odd beds. (More guests can stay at the nearby Mohican State Park Lodge, which is about 30 minutes away and accessible via a shuttle service that The Mohicans can arrange for a fee.)

For added convenience, the Mooneys have a store room full of rentable décor such as vintage luggage, birdcages, cameras and more—everything you might want for a rustic wedding in the woods.