The idea of a wedding venue was always a dream of Amanda Anderson’s father, Richard Gillis, when he started Broken Plow Farm. But when an F4 tornado hit Lee County in 2011, the farm was part of the storm’s destructive path. Several trees were destroyed, and Gillis’ vision was put on hold. Instead, he focused on bringing families together by hosting birthday parties, gatherings and holiday-themed events around Easter, Halloween and Christmas.
Another tragedy — the unexpected loss of Richard and Debra’s son and Amanda’s brother, Daniel, in 2015 — inspired Amanda to revisit the wedding idea.
“I began to refinish a piece of furniture he had hauled from place to place, and this ignited my love for design,” she says. “In 2019, our family started to discuss the past dream of my dad’s wedding venue, now, unlike before, we each had unique talents to contribute to our venue.”
They named the wedding site Daniel’s Ridge for her brother, and Amanda says they poured their hearts and souls into every aspect of it to honor his memory.
“We feel like he would be proud of our accomplishments.”
When Jamie Wright bought The Farm on Cotton and its apple orchard from Bill and Ginger Gibson in 2016, she had no intentions of reinventing the wheel. The thought all along was agriculture would pay the bills.
The day the papers were signed, Wright surprised family and friends with a “We bought a farm!” Facebook post.
Immediately, the requests came in.
“The Gibsons had a few nieces do bridal portraits. Then friends were telling us they had nowhere to take their engagement photos or have their engagement parties,” Wright says. “Within a week, people were reaching out for graduation shots. Then someone wanted a baby shower. Our handy man asked if he could cut his cake here after his courthouse wedding. That’s when I knew we had something else. And I absolutely loved it.”
In no time, Wright put up a 40-by-40 foot permanent tent. Then concrete was poured. In 2020, the large white barn was erected. Today, The Farm on Cotton is a wedding destination. This year, Wright has 33 weddings scheduled. She could do more, but she needs those other 23 weekends to “build the farm back up.”
Both Daniel’s Ridge and the Farm on Cotton began small with their weddings. Within just the last two years, both businesses have built large, white barns/reception halls to serve as the centerpiece of their wedding venues.
“We built the venue with the idea that rustic barns may not always be as popular as they are now,” Anderson says. “Our hope was that if you love barns, you will love our venue. And if you don’t like barns, you may still love our venue. Most brides are looking for an outdoor ceremony site with a reception that is air conditioned. We have hosted so many different styles. Everything from rustic to boho [bohemian].”
Wright says the same for The Farm on Cotton.
“You can go rustic, or you can dress it up,” she says. “We’ve had so many themed weddings — a recent Star Wars wedding was my favorite. The bride walked the aisle to the Star Wars theme music.”
The Farm on Cotton has 33 events scheduled this year. Daniel’s Ridge has 30. While most are weddings, both venues also host birthday parties, corporate events, family reunions, dances and proms and other events.
Wright says three things stick out for those who choose to go with The Farm on Cotton for their big day: Their all-inclusive packages, Wright’s personality (she says she cries at every wedding and becomes friends with just about everybody who weds at her venue) and most importantly, they’re budget friendly.
“I think about budgets and how they affect a couple every time I do this,” she says. “I got married when I was 19, and we were so broke that people brought food to our wedding. I always think about that — I don’t want these young couples to go into debt.”
Anderson says Daniel’s Ridge includes a lot of services in their basic packages — including a computer program that shows a 3D layout of the venue (allowing brides to arrange tables and see what it will look like long before the event). “For brides who want to arrive to find a fully decorated space and leave the clean-up to us at the end of the night, we have additional decorating packages that can be added,” she says.
Both Anderson and Wright say location is one of the biggest draws to their venues. Not only is Lee County home to a ton of great rural settings, its proximity to some of the fastest-growing cities in the nation is a big help.
“Location is everything,” Wright says. “We’re so close to Raleigh, but smack dab between it and Pinehurst. Both of those are home to country clubs and golf course venues. We’re more rustic, and a lot of people are looking for that.”
“And our prices tend to be less than that of the more touristy places like the coast or the mountains,” Anderson adds. “Hotels and restaurants also tend to be less expensive for those who may be traveling from out of state. I would guess about 75 percent of our couples are from other cities and towns.”