When Shirley Fulton bought the historic Wadsworth Estate in 2001, she had no specific plans for the old carriage house out back. Then she got an idea.
What if she used the quaint, old structure to accommodate couples looking for an alternative spot to get married?
It took two years of red tape and lots of renovations, but in early January Fulton opened the 1,200-square-foot building as Charlotte’s newest wedding chapel.
In a city where some of the more traditional spots are booked out many months in advance, Fulton said she believes the new chapel is a solid idea.
“I envision my typical client being someone who’s looking for an alternative to the traditional church,” she said, “those who are looking for a more intimate setting.”
She also hopes the chapel will be the perfect compliment to her 5,500-square-foot landmark known as Wadsworth House.
Seeing a need
Located on Summit Avenue in the Wesley Heights community, the Wadsworth Estate was built in 1911 for George Pierce Wadsworth, a wealthy businessman whose family owned livestock, hardware, banking and land. The home had several owners over the years before Fulton bought the estate in 2001.
She restored the main house, maintaining most of its original features, and has used it as a conference and meeting center. On the first Friday of each month she hosts a live jazz event there.
But it was the small carriage house out back that remained underutilized. When the estate was built, the structure was used to store horse-drawn buggies.
Fulton, a former Superior Court judge, said she settled on the idea of a wedding chapel after noticing a need. Some older couples, or those marrying for a second time, often prefer a more intimate setting – and such places are at a premium in Charlotte, she said.
For $500, couples can rent the old carriage house, which was renovated from top to bottom yet retains much of its historic look and feel. (Fulton said working with the various historic boards during the renovation process was time consuming.)
For an additional rental fee, the main house next door is available for a small reception or as a staging area for the wedding party.
Even though the chapel did not officially open until late January, Fulton said it hosted its first wedding just a few days into the New Year.
A competitive business
As for competition, Fulton said she expect plenty.
Several churches in the area have recently opened wedding chapels, she said. In addition, the historic Duke Mansion for the first time will allow couples to rent the space for weddings.
Becky Farris, general manager of the Duke Mansion, said the building officially opened for weddings on January 28, after securing agreements with neighbors and applying to the city for rezoning.
Under its agreement, the mansion may host only one wedding per day and no more than 25 per year. Capacity is limited to 150 people or fewer. The mansion has booked eight weddings so far for 2010.
Much like Fulton’s carriage house, the Duke mansion is expected to appeal to brides seeking an intimate, one-stop setting for a ceremony and reception.
Farris said she is seeing a trend toward more marriages in the fall. Fulton said more couples also are choosing to marry on a weekday.
As for the ceremonies themselves, Fulton said she does not anticipate any negative effects from the economic recession.
“It seems to me that people are still getting married,” she said. “I don’t see any reduction in what they are willing to put forward for making that day special.”
Photo below: When Wadsworth House was built in 1911, the carriage house, now a wedding chapel, was used to store horse-drawn buggies. (Photo: Qcitymetro.com)
Photo below: Located on Summit Avenue in the Wesley Heights community, the Wadsworth Estate was built for George Pierce Wadsworth, a wealthy businessman whose family owned livestock, hardware, banking and land. (Photo: Qcitymetro.com)