It's no secret that modern weddings become more elaborate - and sometimes over the top - with each passing year. For true elegant wedding themes, the homes of the Gilded Age promise any wedding couple a ceremony or reception with only the very best in luxury and elegance.
The Gilded Age, lasting from about 1890 to 1920, saw the rise of the great business magnates and tycoons of American industry. These new multimillionaires - the first in the nation's history - often constructed fantastic residences for themselves and their family, either as getaways or as palatial, permanent estates. It was a time of one-upmanship in everything from grandeur to size, the homes taking years and whole armies of craftsmen and women to complete.
Many of those homes have become historic landmarks, with tours and facilities now available for private events, such as weddings. The five featured below are only some of what's available.
1. The Hearst Castle, San Simeon CA
Newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst began construction on this sprawling 250,000-acre estate in 1919, but the home he'd named "The Enchanted Hill" wouldn’t be finished until 1947. The imposing Spanish Cathedral-style Casa Grande stands surrounded by three guesthouses in various European styles, encompassing 56 bedrooms and 61 bathrooms. The grounds also hold a private movie theatre, zoo, indoor pool, and airfield. In the 1920s and 30s an invitation to the Hearst Castle was considered the ultimate social coup, with movie stars and world leaders alike spending time on the grounds. Today, the Hearst Castle is a part of the California Parks Department. Information on hosting your wedding event on the grounds can be found at http://hearstcastle.org/contact-hearst-castle/special-events-and-weddings/.
2. The Flagler House, Palm Beach FL
Can you imagine the home of the man that built Miami, Florida Henry Morrison Flagler, the partner to oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller and partner in Standard Oil (now known as Exxon/Mobil), built a railroad along Florida's East Coast, making the then-outpost named for the Miami River its Southern terminus. Flagler built the 60,000 square foot mansion known as Whitehall as a wedding present to his bride in 1902, incorporating a full array of European finery with rooms based off Europe's Louis XIV and Italian Renaissance decors. A central courtyard includes a bubbling Venus fountain, itself a copy of the famous fountains of Italy's Bobboli Gardens.
Special events, such as fall wedding themes, are allowed on the House's grounds with Flagler House Foundation Associate memberships. More special event information and photos can be found at http://flaglermuseum.us/plan-an-event.
3. The Biltmore Estate, Asheville NC
Quite probably the most famous residence in America after the White House, Asheville's Biltmore Estate was constructed as a summer estate for transportation scion George Washington Vanderbilt II. Designed in the French Renaissance style but incorporating the latest technology of the age (such as electricity and intercom systems), the house sits on 8,000 acres of prime North Carolina mountain valley land. Frederic Law Olmstead, the father of American landscape architecture, designed the spacious grounds and gardens with a three-mile Approach Road leading to the main house. Fully self-supporting, the estate today includes two hotels and a functioning vineyard and winery.
Weddings at the Biltmore can include a carriage ride and cocktails in the main house, surrounded by the spectacular floor-to-ceiling windows. This venue, is such a great place to have a wine themed wedding. The wedding planning website, with video, can be found at http://www.biltmore.com/weddings/.
4. James J. Hill House, St. Paul, MN
Constructed in 1891 by Great Northern Railway chief James J. Hill, St. Paul's Hill House sits proudly along Summit Avenue, described as "as the best preserved Victorian boulevard in America." Its 36,000 square foot Richardsonian Romanesque style and stone façade evokes Midwestern handsomeness, while the spacious interiors and opulent Victorian furnishings provide Princess Themed Wedding Decorations for a special event. Guests will thrill at the Gilded Age technology that runs throughout the house, including innovative (for their time) heating and air conditioning systems. More breathtaking Victorian homes, including the family home of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, line up along Summit Avenue's broad expanse.
The Minnesota Historical Society currently maintains the house, and actively seeks clients to use its facilities for special events, such as weddings. Rental information can be found at http://www.mnhs.org/places/sites/jjhh/rental.html.
5. Belcourt Castle, Newport RI
Personally designed by banking fortune scion Oliver Hazard Perry Belmont as his bachelor residence, the$3 million, 50,000 square foot "cottage" draws from several architectural styles, primarily French Renaissance and Gothic. Completed in 1894, virtually the entire first floor is given over to stable space for Belmont's prized horses (his family founded the Belmont Stakes racing derby) and parking for his numerous carriages. The upstairs living area includes 13th Century stained glass windows and antique dining tables imported from Europe. It's the perfect venue for natural classic wedding decorations.
Today the castle is managed by the Royal Arts Foundation and is available for special events. The wedding planning website is located at http://www.belcourtcastle.org/.
Remember that these mansions and palaces are highly sought after wedding destinations, so it's a good idea to book early and make all travel and catering arrangements well in advance.