Wedding Flings

Get Them to the Park, Train, Balloon or Mountain on Time

By Gina Gallucci White | Posted on 06.22.13 – Feature, Lifestyles, People & Places


At a rest stop along I-95, Matthew Brandley picked up a brochure and learned about the Walkersville Southern Railroad. With a love of trains since his childhood, the Edgewood, Md., resident decided to make the journey with his thengirlfriend, Tina, also a locomotive fan, to Frederick County to ride the rails.

“We fell in love with [the railroad],” he recalls. Together for three years since meeting online, Brandley recently popped the question—aboard the train’s caboose—and when it came time to plan their nuptials, they again turned to the railroad. “We wanted something different,” Brandley says. “We both knew we wanted to have the wedding on a train and they have the perfect venue for it. … We want it to be our special day.”

These days, houses of worship or the courthouse aren’t the only places for couples to exchange their vows. Chris Popple, owner of Candlelight Floral Designs, says he’s constantly asked about unique wedding ceremony venues. “More and more people are looking for something completely different,” he says. “They want to put their own personal stamp on a wedding.” The Middletown florist recently put together a website,, which gives couples location ideas they might have overlooked or were unaware of.

“It’s just a personal recommendation and that’s what brides want,” Popple says, adding that the website’s inspiration came when he was watching the animated movie The Incredibles with his son.

In the film, the villain Syndrome is telling Mr. Incredible why he’s inventing different types of weapons similar to super heroes’ abilities. “Everyone can be super and when everyone’s super, no one will be,” the character cackles.

After hearing the line, Popple’s son turned to him and said the observation was similar to what brides have been telling him for so long—they want their special day to stand out and not blend in with others.

Popple has several recommendations which are different than the standard ones residents regularly see on invitation cards. Gambrill State Park’s Tea Room, for example, features a huge stone patio and views of Frederick on one side and Middletown on the other. “You can see for miles and miles and miles,” he says. “It’s amazing.”

Baker Park also offers a variety of outdoor options, including at the base of the Carillion Tower, the gazebo and the bandshell. The banks of Culler Lake and the Carroll Creek Linear Park Amphitheater can offer a rare waterfront wedding experience. “There are not too many places you can get married by a lake or river in Frederick County,” Popple says.

If the guest list looks more like a phone book, consider a wedding at The Weinberg Center for the Arts on West Patrick Street. “They can seat over a thousand people,” Popple says.

Take Me Out to a Wedding

When the team is on the road, the Frederick Keys will host a wedding on their baseball diamond at Harry Grove Stadium and the reception in the clubhouse. “It is a place that’s a unique option if you are thinking outside the box,” says Keys assistant general manager Adam Pohl. “You would have the ballpark at your disposal. … For a big time baseball fan, it’s something unique.”

The Mattress Warehouse club suite at the stadium can accommodate up to 78 people comfortably for a reception and the couple can work with Keys’ staff members to plan and personalize the day. The wedding party can even borrow a page from military weddings, using baseball bats (rather than swords) crossed above the couple as they exit the field. Last year, the stadium had a wedding for a couple of diehard fans who said their “I dos” at home plate.

“So many weddings happen in the summer and the ball park is in perfect shape,” Pohl says, adding that while stadium weddings are not all that frequent, bachelor and bachelorette parties on game days are.

Want a venue that will give you not hours but days to make the site your own? Thurmont’s Mathwig Estate Event Barn offers couples the 108-acre site from Thursday to noon Sunday. “The number-one thing people love about us is we give them time,” says manager Taylor Lawyer. “Each bride can decorate the barn and change it into her ideal wedding.”

The rebuilt 1950s-era barn doesn’t have heat or air conditioning, but fans can be provided. Summer listings, not surprisingly, are usually the last to book. The barn has been the site for weddings over the past 10 years, but didn’t really become popular until about a year ago. “People like the natural barn look,” Lawyer says.

Want a wedding that literally has your heart soaring? Tailwinds Over Frederick offers hot air balloon rides for up to seven people depending on weight. “It’s definitely something unexpected,” says Meagan Smith, who handles marketing, scheduling and photography for the business. The ride is “something you can take off your bucket list.” Begun three years ago, the business has also been a part of five marriage proposals.

Tailwinds will host the wedding and are open to flying throughout the area with the only exceptions being protected air space when the president is at Camp David. Flights usually go about 1,500 feet into the sky but can go up to a mile off the ground.

“It depends on the passengers and what they are comfortable with,” she says. Video and photos of the event are also available through the business, with tethered balloon rides an option for wedding guests. Typically, the tethered balloon goes 30 to 50 feet high, but on a calm, windless day the basket can go 60 to 75 feet in the air. The company is talking with several area wedding venues to offer flights away from the reception for the newly minted Mr. and Mrs. “It’s neat to do a send off in a balloon,” Smith says.

Historical to Whimsical

How about a historical site as the place to begin your married life? The grounds of Rose Hill Manor, the land once owned by the state’s first governor, Thomas Johnson, are available for booking, including a garden/orchard area, two fields and a meadow. “We are seeing an increase in people wanting an outdoor venue,” says museum manager Kari Saavedra.

Many couples cite the photographic appeal of the historic grounds, including the outside of the 1790s mansion, as the reason they chose the location. Although weddings can’t be hosted inside the museum, tours are available for an additional fee. Saavedra says couples have even set up games on the grounds and picnic area.

The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo on U.S. 15 outside of Thurmont, has hosted several weddings by special request which includes animal participants before, during or after the ceremony.

“We have had people request to ride in on camels or have anything from zebras, pythons and the giraffe appear for their guests at the reception,” says executive director Richard Hahn. “The safari ride was booked for one entire wedding party as an entertainment feature.”

The first wedding the zoo hosted was for a couple who initially met in front of the grizzly bear enclosure— the spot for their ceremony in the late 1970s. One bride asked for the ring bearers to be two tortoises but they ended up being a little too slow, Hahn says with a laugh. Another requested that macaws be perched around the celebration. “Whatever they want, they can have,” he says. “There is no package. We tailor to what they want. … People don’t get bored” at a zoo wedding.

The Venue Wore White

Snow can be a welcome guest for brides and grooms who love to ski. Just over the border in Pennsylvania, Ski Liberty in Carroll Valley hosts about 80 weddings a year, says Deanna Painter, director of sales. Around 80 percent of the ceremonies take place outside with the reception moving inside.

Couples have been married at the snow base area and the top of the mountain. They even had a couple snowboard down the mountain in their gown and tuxedo.

How about a venue that can show a movie put together about you and your significant other? The 103-year-old Shepherdstown Opera House in West Virginia was recently renovated and can easily accommodate live music for the reception. Those who have asked the Opera House to host their special day are “people who love the theater and have fallen in love with the building,” says owner Lawrence Cumbo.

That’s not unlike how Matthew Bradley and his bride-to-be felt about the Walkersville Southern Railroad’s train. Brooke Kovalcik, railroad manager, agrees. “It’s something unique that you can’t just do anywhere.”

Brandley expects to have around 25 people at the September ceremony—immediate family members and close friends who “are very excited and think it’s really cool.” He and Tina are also Civil War buffs and will dress in period costumes.

Steve and Sandra Mathews of Charles Town, W.Va., wed aboard the train in October 2011. Their first ride was as part of a murder mystery event the railroad regularly hosts. They enjoyed themselves so much they decided to get married on the train and incorporate a murder mystery as a nod to their initial ride experience.

“It was not just a celebration but an entertainment event,” Steve says. Sandra adds: “Looking back, I wouldn’t have a wedding anywhere else.”