The New Kid on the Block
Jan 30, 2015 03:30AM
By Jason Huddle
There are a number of wedding/reception venues in Cabarrus County Suited to just about every taste – whether it be upscale and formal or outdoors and rustic.
Ritchie Hill is an impressive Queen Anne Victorian home located at 391 Union Street S., in historic downtown Concord; it truly cannot be missed by the passer-by. It’s also the newest event venue in Concord. According to Peter Kaplan, author of The Historic Architecture of Cabarrus County North Carolina, the Caldwell-Ritchie house was built circa 1902. Heath Ritchie says Charles F. Ritchie purchased the home and 11 acres of adjacent land between 1906 and 1913. His additions included a deep wrap-around porch, a porte-cochere (coach gate or carriage porch) and sleeping porches for two upstairs bedrooms. Electricity and plumbing were most likely added at that time as well.
The land was farmed until Ritchie’s death in 1941 and subsequent generations of family members continued living in the home until Heath and wife Carolyn moved out in 2008. By that point, the home was in need of extensive renovations, but no one in the family was up to the task. “The family, begrudgingly, decided to list the home for sale,” Elizabeth Ritchie Sherrill says. “A few people looked at it as a possible B&B, and a few more as a home, but no one seemed to like the 4,000-square-foot house with the 1,800-square-foot porch with the four-plus acres, every inch of which needed some TLC.”
The idea of transforming the family home into a wedding venue came from the most unlikely of places. In 2011 – around the time she was, herself, getting married – Sherrill had been given the first book in The Bride Quartet series by her mother, Carolyn. The books chronicle four friends who create a wedding venue from a family estate and operate it themselves.
“A few of my friends and I read it together,” Sherrill says. “From there, I casually mentioned it to family as a ‘what-if’ idea and everyone fell in love. We began discussing it as a dream, which turned into an opportunity. We are so lucky to have a very talented family, which includes both business and artistic minds.”
Before any renovating could take place, however, legal matters had to be attended to.
“Not only is the home in a residential neighborhood, it is considered a ‘pivotal structure’ in the South Union Street Historic District, the highest level of architectural importance,” Heath Ritchie says. “We first informed the Historic Preservation Commission of our intent in hopes they would be receptive to the concept. Next step was to petition the Planning and Zoning Commission to write legal statutes to allow such a project. Public hearings were held, and laws were written and sent to City Council to be discussed. After debate and more public hearings, ordinances were enacted to allow ‘banquet homes’ as a conditional use in the city limits, with many restrictions.”
What followed? A trip back to the Historic Preservation Commission to apply for a certificate of approp-riateness; another public hearing and debate; approval from the Historic Preservation Commission; and back to Planning and Zoning for a conditional use permit under the new laws.
“The process takes time, but between Commission meetings we completed designs, arranged financing, selected our contractor, etc., so we would be ready to start,” Ritchie says.
The Ritchies’ plan from the very beginning was to bring their home back to its original glory. “The house had two kitchens, so we combined them to form a large catering kitchen and prep area,” Sherrill says. “We graded a portion of the back yard to form a 60-foot by 80-foot grass pad for tenting or overflow parking. The majority of the house and porch have just been brought to new again with fresh paint, refinished floors, new crown molding, etc.”
“The home has, for over 100 years, proven itself to be a welcoming place for extended family and friends,” Heath Ritchie adds. “Very few changes were necessary or desired to allow us to share it with others. Floor supports were added to allow for larger groups of guests, electrical wiring – some 90 years old – was replaced to meet code, new paint inside and out, handicapped bathroom and accessibility were added, and wider driveways and more formal landscaping were required for wedding options.”
Potential clients are being given tours of the facility, projected to be completed by the 15th of this month. “The first floor of the home has a music room, living room, library and formal dining room, all of which are open for interior event space,” Sherrill explains. “For brides and grooms who rent the space, the home features a groom’s lounge, bridal suite with private bath, separate upstairs changing room, two interior guest restrooms, a fire pit and a butler’s pantry bar.”
The Ritchies have developed a pricing structure, with various packages available. “For Friday and Saturday events, we do include a table and chair rental package,” Sherrill says. “While we plan to acquire many décor items and additional perks as we go along, our main purpose is to provide a classic, timeless location for a Southern wedding. We want our brides and grooms to add their own touch as they see fit. We allow outside caterers, DJs, coordinators, etc.”
Depending on how much of the facility one needs to rent, prices vary from $250 per hour (minimum of two hours) for the first floor of the house and front porch on a Friday morning, to $6,500 for use of the whole estate for a full-on Friday and Saturday wedding event.
“Whether it’s spending a relaxing afternoon on the front porch for a book club or sitting conference-style at our family’s dining room table reviewing a presentation, we are ready for it all! Since the home has been empty for so long, we can’t wait to have it used as much as possible,” Sherrill adds.
What has made this endeavor a little easier is that every family member has jumped in with both feet, taking on tasks and managing projects. “The only missing link was our director of operations to run the venue. We could not have asked for anyone better than Jessica Eudy (704-975-5088 or [email protected]), who is a recent bride herself and has years of experience in various aspects of the wedding and event industry,” Sherrill says.
She adds, “As a family member who has personally lived in the house, I know first-hand that we could not be more blessed to have the neighbors and community that we do. Everyone has been so positive and receptive to our dream. We are so excited for the relationships we have already formed with local vendors in downtown Concord and around Cabarrus County, and cannot wait to see what our first year of events holds!”