Before opening, the owners of Graystone Quarry had to remove 900 tons of trash from the site. / Photo Matt Blois
By MATT BLOIS
Rick and Nancy McEachern spent months cleaning what used to be a dump in Thompson’s Station before they built their wedding venue, including a chapel and an event space.
The property, called Graystone Quarry, was used as a limestone quarry during the construction of Interstate 65, but then it was abandoned for about 50 years.
“People have been coming here for many, many years, jumping off cliffs into ponds and things. Smoking pot, growing pot,” she said. “There was a car stealing thing up here. People would steal cars take it apart and dump it in the pond.”
Most of that nefarious activity ended before they bought the property in 2014. Nancy McEachern said they cleared out 900 tons of trash over the course of six months. The couple built a brand new chapel and a large reception space using materials on the property.
McEachern said the cleanup and construction was costly, but the investment was worth it because she saw the property’s potential.
“We really consciously picked this spot. We did two years worth of research to figure out where we wanted to be,” she said. “We wanted something cool and different. We didn’t want to do another barn.”
The result looks like a scene from a magazine, with a waterfall flowing into the old quarry pit and a comfortable fire pit next to the water’s edge.
The business hosts more than 100 weddings each year, in addition to corporate events and board meetings. After the extensive cleanup process, McEachern said operating the company has been profitable from the start.
According to the research company The Wedding Report, couples in Williamson County spent on average about $34,000 on a wedding in 2018. That’s down slightly from nearly $36,000 in 2014.
With more than 1,000 marriages in 2017, weddings have become a big business in Williamson County.
Franklin-based wedding planner Ashley Goldman, who owns Evergreen Events, said most of the weddings she works on bring in guests from out of town, contributing to Williamson County’s $450 million tourism industry. In many cases, the vast majority of guests come from somewhere else.
As the county grows, Goldman said she’s been able to easily find new clients, and doesn’t spend any money on advertising.
“On my wedding day, those bridesmaids, or those guests, I’m performing for them,” Goldman said. “They are tangibly seeing you action, which is super cool. For me, it’s the best form of advertising. I can’t show them on my website what I can do in real life.”
McEachern said she also often books corporate events or other weddings with guests who have attended a wedding there.
Cities in Williamson County are also capitalizing on opportunities in the wedding business. Both Spring Hill and Brentwood own historic properties that can be rented out for weddings.
Spring Hill is hoping to increase revenue from its Rippavilla property, which has previously hosted about 15 weddings a year. Rippavilla’s director of weddings and rentals Meghan Gwaltney told the Spring Hill Home Page in May 2018, she hopes to increase that number to several weddings each month.
Brentwood started renting out the Ravenswood Mansion for events in 2014. During the last fiscal year, the property generated about $78,000 in revenue. By January of this year, the mansion had already generated more than $150,000 in revenue, according to event venue manager Abby Cox.
Last year, the city held a video contest for engaged couples to promote the property as a wedding venue. The prize was a full wedding at the venue.
It’s not everyday #RavenswoodMansion has a wedding with a #camel. Congratulations to Mr and Mrs Kamel. Check us out for your special events https://t.co/xBjEkK8CrX. @GeorgeKamel pic.twitter.com/WeA2ICCtTv
— City of Brentwood (@CityofBrentwood) November 2, 2018
Cox said on average couples spend between $20,000 and $40,000 on a wedding at Ravenswood.
Goldman said the cost of a wedding can increase quickly, in part because of something called a wedding tax: the amount vendors mark up products or services simply because they are related to a wedding.
According to research by Consumer Reports, about a quarter of vendors quoted higher prices for a wedding than another similar event.
Goldman said that can be frustrating for couples and wedding planners, but there is usually a reason for the increase.
“I think a lot of the reason it does happen is because with weddings, as a vendor, there does come a lot of extra stress,” she said. “Not just a small birthday party, or a gathering. There might be an intense crazy bride, and the mom. Sometimes there’s more stress and emotion.”
Compared to other counties in Tennessee, Williamson County has a relatively modest number of weddings. Davidson County recorded more than 6,000 marriages in 2017. Sevier County had the most marriages in Tennessee, hitting nearly 10,000 in 2017. Both counties also had higher marriage rates than Williamson.
Goldman said much of her work comes from Davidson County, but that is starting to change.
“There’s a lot of new venues popping up in Williamson County, or have popped up in the last five years. It’s a growing market for sure,” she said. “I think in the past, if you lived in Franklin you had to market yourself as a Nashville wedding planner. Recently though, I think there’s enough business where you could just be a Franklin wedding planner, and just do weddings here. We are becoming our own.”