By Donna Cornelius
Destination weddings are popular, but they’re not always practical.
Airfare and lodging can be ruinously expensive, particularly for those with large families. And it’s not always convenient for friends to schedule their vacations around a wedding date.
Pursell Farms in Sylacauga is within easy driving distance of Birmingham but has the feel of an exclusive getaway. Hamilton Place, its 22-acre wedding venue, charmingly combines the past and present. With a renovated historic home, a brand new Grand Ballroom, a spa and beautifully landscaped gardens and grounds, brides and grooms can feel like they’ve stepped back in time – but with modern amenities included.
Pursell Farms is well known for its FarmLinks golf course and has the only Orvis Shooting Grounds in the South. Accommodations include a well-appointed lodge, cottages and cabins. A new 40-room inn will open this fall.
The 3,200-acre resort was created by the Pursell family, which started the Sylacauga Fertilizer Co. in 1904. The company later became Pursell Technologies.
Pursell Farms actually has its foundation in the Greek Revival-style house at Hamilton Place.
“The house was built in 1852 by Benjamin Averitt,” said Leslie Bryant, Pursell Farms communications manager. “It was purchased by Moses Hamilton, who lived here with his 10 children until 1893. He moved out, and over the years it traded hands and owners.”
In 1974, Taylor Pursell, the oldest child of Jimmy and Chris Pursell, discovered the house, Bryant said.
“It was storing hay – the floor of the gorgeous foyer was covered in hay,” she said. “Taylor bought the house to repair and sell. Two years after that, Jimmy and Chris became enthralled with the house and purchased it from Taylor. They poured time and money into restoring it. They lived here until 2007, when they built a home nearby.”
After buying the house, the family began acquiring additional property.
“Without this house, Pursell Farms may not have been here,” Bryant said.
The idea for creating the current version of Pursell Farms came from David Pursell, Jimmy and Chris’ younger son. The project started in 2002 with the construction of FarmLinks, a research and demonstration golf course. Bryant said the facility draws golf course superintendents and managers from all over the world.
The Pursell family has deep roots in the Sylacauga area but has a Birmingham connection, too. Taylor Pursell bought the original Leaf & Petal in Birmingham in 2005. His son, Jamie Pursell, now owns all three Leaf & Petal stores – on Cahaba Road in Mountain Brook, at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and at The Summit.
While the first wedding at the new Hamilton Place venue was April 29, the house has hosted happy couples before.
“The family had several weddings here,” Bryant said. “Vaughan Pursell Spanjer, David’s daughter, got married here. There’s a photo of her as a bride in the living room.”
To complete the Hamilton Place venue, a former guest house was turned into a spa, the historic house was fitted out for bridal groups and parties, and an impressive new Grand Ballroom was built.
“The farm started growing, and we thought, we can make this a beautiful Southern setting for weddings,” Bryant said.
The Grand Ballroom, built in Colonial Tidewater style to complement the historic house, can accommodate 350. Guests can pull up under the porte-cochere and go into the living room, where a stately marble fireplace is made from Alabama white marble, quarried in Sylacauga.
“Ellen Pursell, David’s wife, designed everything and picked out the furniture,” Bryant said.
On one wall is Vaughan Pursell Spanjer’s painting of a crane.
“David does pencil and charcoal drawings,” Bryant said. “They’re a talented family.”
In the spacious ballroom, chandeliers hang from the 20-foot-tall clapboard ceiling. The room is filled with light filtered in through dormer windows, skylights and a large bay window facing the formal gardens. The sun porch has barn-style doors that open to the ceremonial lawn, where white chairs can be set up for guests. The bride can walk from the Grand Ballroom across the lawn with a sparkling lake, sprawling green pastures, towering water oaks, magnolia trees and Chalybeate Mountain as scenery.
“When you talk about a bride making a grand entrance, this is it,” Bryant said.
Pursell Farms has plenty of accommodations for weddings and for family reunions, corporate retreats and other getaways.
“Guests can rent out the historic house in its entirety,” Bryant said. “For the first wedding in April, the bride and her bridesmaids stayed here. We set up hair and makeup stations for them on the sun porch, and they had lunch here, too.”
There’s no shortage of activities for the wedding party and guests.
“The groom and his groomsmen went to shoot at the Orvis facility before the wedding in April, and of course you can play golf here, too,” Bryant said.
The18-hole, 7,444-yard championship course was named Golfweek’s 2016 No. 1 all-access golf course in Alabama. The Orvis Shooting Grounds offers sport clay shooting, wingshooting and fly-fishing schools.
Parker Lodge, the first lodging built on the property, has eight bedrooms.
“You can rent it in its entirety for corporate groups or family reunions as well as weddings,” Bryant said. “It’s being refurbished now.”
Architect Circle has two cottages, the Ross and the Mackenzie, named for golf course architects. Each has four bedrooms with two queen-sized beds. Rooms overlook the 18th fairway.
Masters Row has four cabins and one cottage. The cottage has a full-sized kitchen for private chef dinners. Each room has two queen-sized beds and its own bath.
“You can rent these by the room, so they’re great for golf groups,” Bryant said. “Families also can stay here for weddings.”
Big back porches look out on a private putting and chipping course. Guests here and at the Architect Circle cottages get to use Club Car golf carts during their stays.
The Inn at Pursell Farms, which will open this fall, will have 40 rooms, a pool, fitness center and two restaurants.
“Arrington’s will be fine but casual dining with a farm-to-fork menu, and Old Tom’s Pub will be a sports bar with a Scottish golf feel,” Bryant said.
Andrea Griffith, who’s now the chef at The Grille at Pursell Farms, will be the executive chef at both the new restaurants.
“I grew up in Philadelphia and went to West Virginia to do an apprenticeship program at The Greenbrier,” said Griffith, who lives in Greystone. “Then I went to Primland Resort in the Meadows of Dan, Virginia, and opened The Lodge there. The Pursell family met me there and offered me a job.”
The chef said she likes to use locally made and locally sourced products as much as possible.
“We use Conecuh bacon and sausage and buy from small farms or use our own products,” she said.
Griffith, a creative and award-winning chef, and her staff provide food for wedding receptions and other events.
“Chef Andrea is very accommodating,” Bryant said. “One bride wanted a plated dinner with a choice of filet, halibut or vegetarian ravioli. Some want stations or buffets. You can bring in your own wedding cake, but we have a pastry chef available here, too.”
Bryant said she’s enjoyed seeing the wedding venue take shape.
“On my very first day at Pursell Farms, we had a meeting at Hamilton Place,” she said. “The Grand Ballroom was just concrete floors then. It’s been so much fun to see it all come together.”
Pursell Farms is at 386 Talladega Springs Road in Sylacauga. For more information about weddings, call Alyce Head, wedding sales manager, at 205-835-8042 or send an email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For general information, visit pursellfarms.com.