Q. I’m planning an outdoor wedding, but I want my guests to remember the beauty of the setting, not the inconveniences.
After serving for years as little sister to cosmopolitan Appleton to the north, Oshkosh (second only to Milwaukee in size in the early 1900s) is seeing renewed vitality as a wedding destination for Fox River Valley residents. Situated on the shore of Lake Winnebago—the largest lake inside the state’s boundaries—Oshkosh is also on the busy Fox River. While some brides and grooms have family in the area, others are lured by Oshkosh’s proximity to water, a fancy for airplanes or its historic buildings that represent the city’s early lumber baron wealth.
Arguably the foremost outdoor ceremony or reception draw in Oshkosh is the Paine Art Center and Gardens. A limestone Tudor Revival-style mansion, with art galleries inside and acres of surrounding gardens outside, the Paine is the legacy of Nathan and Jesse Paine, one of Oshkosh’s foremost lumber families. The elaborate estate lures about 50 couples per year for ceremonies and/or intimate receptions, says Michelle Rector, the Paine’s special events coordinator. “It’s reminiscent of a grand English country house. Inside, we can accommodate up to 125 wedding guests while outside, we have space for 225.” Renting outdoor ceremony space runs about $1,300 with an outdoor reception costing about $3,900. Inside receptions run approximately $3,600.
Ann Evenson of Fort Atkinson says the Paine was her destination wedding choice in June 2007, partly because it was between her hometown of Green Bay and that of her husband’s in Fort Atkinson, but largely because of its beauty and convenience. “We knew our guests would be able to tour the grounds and we could have all of our pictures right on site. Everything was there. And the Paine has a wedding coordinator right on site (Rector) who did an amazing job.”
Oshkosh also offers other outdoor photo options. Photographer Melody Wollangk points to the 110-acre Menominee Park Zoo, with its stone bridges and ivy-covered walls, as well as to South Park, featuring a creek and old growth trees. “Even the Oshkosh Public Museum, built over a century ago, features incredible architecture that’s a perfect backdrop for wedding photos,” says Wollangk, who owns Limelite Studios with husband Jason Toney.
Tamara Mugerauer, owner of Blue, an event consulting business, and the Cake Guru bakery, says some clients are UW-Oshkosh alumni. Others like the “hometown feel” of Oshkosh, population 65,000 or so. And many of her couples get caught up in the burgeoning interest surrounding the city’s older buildings. “There is a huge movement in this city of young entrepreneurs who are excited about utilizing the historic buildings downtown, especially after the Johnny Depp movie (‘Public Enemies,’ about 1930s gangsters) was filmed here.”
The Grand Opera House, designed by local architect William Waters, is in demand for wedding photos. It’s also available between performances for ceremonies, says David Lange, events manager. The arts center, built in 1883 and restored in 1986, rents for about $350 plus labor and equipment with the caveat that dates for that year can’t be confirmed until early spring once the season schedule is set. “We can do just about anything they need with lighting, and basic stage lighting is included in the estimate,” Lange says, adding a bit of good news for brides and grooms interested in the opera site: A lounge is being renovated that will accommodate about 125 or so for receptions.
For those interested in country club formality or a nautical theme, The Waters would suit. The stately Georgian-style former yacht club on the shore of Lake Winnebago, which was built at the turn of the century, has been meticulously restored and updated. Named for its architect, William Waters, it boasts multiple outdoor spaces including a beautiful lawn, a screened porch and a full-length balcony on the second floor facing the water. “Many brides choose to walk down our grand staircase to make their entrance,” says manager Kim Price. The Waters can accommodate up to 300 guests, although not all on one level. Rents for a Friday or Saturday wedding, either inside or outside, are $3,000 to $3,500.
The city’s large European immigrant population circa 1900 means that old Catholic churches are in no short supply. “In general, I like shooting in Oshkosh because it’s historic and it’s so antique,” says photographer Heidi Lee of Heidi Lee Photography. “And I shoot at a lot of really great churches in Oshkosh. St. Mary’s is probably my favorite. It’s gorgeous at every angle.”
Some of the couples marrying in Oshkosh have their eyes on the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). While it’s known internationally for the week-long AirVenture festivities that draw crowds of more than 600,000, the museum is open all year. “Our Eagle hangar is part of the museum where the World War II planes are stored, and we can host wedding receptions in there as well as outside on our grounds. During the reception, guests can have a private museum tour or use the flight simulator,” says Joanne Bauer, senior meetings coordinator. “Currently, construction is under way in the Founder’s Wing. Once that’s complete, we’ll be able to accommodate events with 300 people.”
The grounds also include a picturesque white wedding chapel, replete with double red doors. “It’s set next to a small pond, and nearby there’s an arched bridge,” says Bauer. “It’s intimate and charming, inside and out.”
While couples are drawn to the Fox River Valley for its natural amenities, they also appreciate the culture the area has to offer. “There’s always something going on,” says Nicole Brayton, keeper of Brayton Bed and Breakfast. “We have art walks, public museum tours, cultural events, and many waterfront restaurants.”
Event designer Terri Kahler of Signature Milestones in Appleton says many of her clients celebrate in Oshkosh because they fall in love with a venue. “The venue is key. If they are choosing Oshkosh and not coming into the greater Appleton area, which is about three to four times the size and only 20 minutes away, then it’s because they found the right place for them.”