Successful business is born in a barn

By HOLLY KELSEY-HENRY

Jill and Kirk Clemmer are a dangerous match. She has exquisite taste and big ideas. He has a hammer and nails and knows how to use them. 

So, when their daughter Amanda wanted to get married in their barn six years ago, the couple got busy pitch-forking several decades of pigeon poop and junk out of the loft of the 1930s Finnish craftsman structure. While the barn was no doubt a testament to a generation of industrious farmers creating indestructible shelters with few resources, it was by no means ready to host a gala affair.

“It had been many decades since the barn fulfilled its original purpose of housing cows and feed and it was just kind of sitting there being a barn – a place to put stuff,” Jill recalls – “nice to look at on the outside, but a real mess on the inside.”

But the whimsical dream of their daughter to one day get married there and top the celebration off with a barn dance hung heavy on the minds of mom and dad.

Through the years, Jill had already transformed the grounds into a welcoming, elegant backdrop made up of countless flower beds, fixtures and ponds.

But once Amanda’s engagement was announced in December 2011, their work began in earnest.  Kirk, the owner of Brule River Builders, was given seven months to transform the utilitarian structure into an enchanting, romantic destination for his daughter’s big day.

“My wedding was beautiful,” Amanda confirms. “Everything my parents do is done beautifully.” 

Before the first champagne glasses had even clanked a toast to the new bride and groom, guests were already inquiring about opening the barn and the grounds up for other wedding couples.

And so was born the Brule River Barn Wedding and Event Center.

After jumping through all the conditional use permit hoops and meeting an abundance of health and safety regulations, the Clemmers opened the barn for weddings (and eventually for other events such as memorial services, graduation parties, reunions and photo opportunities) via a Facebook post. The inquiries poured in.

“Seriously, I had to tell her over and over again that everything was going to be just fine,” recalls Amanda. And so it has been.

This season, 22 weddings were booked, stretching from spring well into fall.

As the bookings continued to grow, so did Jill’s desire to make her farm the ultimate wedding barn destination. So, last year, she and Kirk moved out of their own house on the property for the season so the wedding party and families of the wedding couple could stay all weekend without the stress of a commute.

The tastefully decorated late 1800s square-log construction sleeps 10-12 and has two bathrooms, a fully stocked kitchen, three outdoor porches, and a wrap-around four season porch.

Also on the property is a one bedroom cottage with a full kitchen and bathroom, generally reserved for the newly married couple. When not in use for weddings, it’s a popular Airbnb destination.

“I’m not entirely even sure why people come here as Airbnb guests, other than I guess they want the peace and quiet of a farm,” Jill notes.

Another building on the property, the Summer Kitchen, has an eventful history serving as everything from a post office to a bar to a church. It was moved log-by-log from its original home by Jill and her son Ben and is now equipped with a refrigerator and tables and has been known to host everything from rehearsal dinners to tea parties.

As for the location of one’s vows, Amanda chose the obviously named “Willow Tree.” Having grown up climbing the enormous 100-year-old willow, she often dreamed of getting married beneath its vast umbrella. 

“That’s one thing that never changed,” she says. “I always dreamed of getting married there.”

In 2017, The Oaks, a shaded area along the northern tree-line, was created. Reclaimed pews were added and the ceremony area is framed by two enormous oaks.

The Meadows, a gazebo overlooking the meadow, pond and far tree-line, is another option where couples can say their vows. Big on recycling, the Clemmers proudly note that most everything in the gazebo is recycled, including the roof, which was originally from Jill’s dad’s barn. “We try really hard to recycle,” Jill says. In fact on any given Saturday night around midnight you will find her waist-deep in a garbage can separating the trash. “I just feel like when you host this many people you need to do the thing right,” she says.

When she’s not planning for the next big event, Jill can be found in the garden – or mowing. Every Wednesday, she spends five hours tending to  just the lawn. 

She readily admits running the business takes a village. Her son Neil, an attorney, helps with all the legal contract work and daughter-in-law Kerry is the website designer and the all-around organized person of the bunch.

It also, truly, takes a village.

Because of her tireless efforts, the business has indeed become yet another crown jewel of the Brule River Valley. 

“We started out just wanting people to have the same experience Amanda had on her special day,” notes Jill. “It grew into something much bigger. We get to collaborate with other businesses and they are super sweet and supportive. We try to get our guests to come a day early and go down the Brule. They stay in area accommodations and eat in area restaurants. We try to do as much business locally as possible. It’s turned out be a good thing for all of us.”

For more information, visit bruleriverbarn.com 

Holly Kelsey-Henry is a South Shore-based freelance writer.