Abernethy at Nineteen! The Stories Behind the Venue
It’s November and like many of you, we have gratitude top of mind. Abernethy Center just celebrated our 19th birthday, despite the challenges of 2020, we have so much to be grateful for! Our business has grown far beyond what we ever envisioned, from a single building to a multi-acre property with four distinct venues; it’s equal parts humbling and heartwarming. We’re often asked about the Abernethy origin story, so in honor of Thanksgiving, I want to share a behind the scenes look at how each of our venues came into existence.
IT ALL STARTED WITH A FLOOD
In early 1996, massive flooding along the Willamette river submerged downtown Oregon City causing catastrophic property damage. When the water receded, the historic post office building on 15th street was rendered uninhabitable and sold to two contractors who specialized in rehabbing old properties.
At first, there was no real plan for the flooded-out post office, aside from a much needed full building restoration. The owners expected to eventually lease the building, thinking it would be good for a boutique grocery store. This is where serendipity enters the story. The old post office was still under construction when people began asking to rent it as an event space. At first, the owners declined – after all they were contractors envisioning a grocery store, not venue operators. But requests kept coming and they became impossible to ignore. The owners realized there was an unmet demand for an event space in the community, a gap that needed to be filled, and from there the concept of Abernethy Center was born.
”Sometimes you just have to listen, and take what the community gives you.”
Dan Fowler, Founding Owner
The old post office was fully remodeled and Abernethy Center opened in October 2001. Beneath the old red brick facade, Abernethy ballroom offered a majestic marble foyer, romantic lighting, and full-wall windows. The reception hall was instantly popular for weddings, corporate events, and holiday parties.
OUR FIRST FORAY INTO THE EVENT INDUSTRY WAS A SUCCESS AND WE WERE HOOKED!
The owners dedicated themselves to learning the business, growing a passionate team, and building collaborative partnerships in the industry. Within a year of opening, Abernethy Center was flourishing and demand for an outdoor space became apparent.
Abigail’s Garden was built in 2003, on a 3-acre parcel of land nestled along Abernethy Creek and adjacent to the ballroom. The property had a thick perimeter of trees with acres of rolling green-space in the center, perfect for an outdoor wedding venue! We designed every inch of Abigail’s Garden with the needs of wedding couples and their guests in mind, making it truly unique. Everything is close together, in one central yet expansive area, and you feel completely separate from the outside world – like a magical wedding bubble!
Who is Abigail?
People ask about the namesake all the time! Abigail’s Garden was named for Abigail Scott Duniway, an outspoken women’s rights advocate, newspaper editor, and writer, whose efforts were instrumental in gaining voting rights for women in Oregon. Abigail was the perfect name for our garden as not only a representation of what bold strength and collaboration are all about, but also a fitting tribute to a remarkable woman in our early Northwest’s history.
I wish we had another garden!
Abigail’s Garden opened at a time when outdoor weddings were exploding in popularity. But the Oregon climate is unpredictable with stretches of the year not suitable for outdoor celebrations. So demand for garden wedding dates quickly outpaced our supply.
The Veiled Garden was built in 2005 to provide another beautiful and distinct outdoor venue, allowing couples to choose the aesthetic that best fits their style. While Abigail’s Garden is classic and elegant, the Veiled Garden is naturally wild and quintessentially Oregon. It sits in a natural clearing, surrounded by rugged wooded hillsides. Sunlight filters through the forest canopy, you can hear birds singing, and even smell the subtle sweet aroma of bark and ferns. It’s truly a feast for the senses! The Veiled Garden feels secluded, but it’s only a brief stroll across the street and through the trees from our original ballroom building. I know we probably aren’t supposed to have favorites, and… the Veiled Garden is most of our team’s favorite venue. There’s just something special about that spot.
Meanwhile behind the scenes….
By 2010, Abernethy Center was a thriving business with our ballroom and two wedding gardens, but there was one downside. You could say we were experiencing growing pains. Focusing on outdoor weddings in Oregon meant the business was highly seasonal and unable to sustain the type of year-round team and operation that we needed to keep growing and expanding our services to clients. It was time to evolve again with another venue for all seasons.
We designed Abernethy Chapel to look and feel timeless. It’s a classic white wedding chapel sitting in a grove of trees. On the inside there are high ceilings, dramatic wood beams and large windows; even a 65 ft bell tower and authentic 1887 wedding bell for couples to ring after saying “I do”.
“Ideas are born and grow into their own personality. The chapel has become an iconic statement in our community and influenced the community identity.”
Mark Foley, Founding Owner
We wanted a timeless nod to history that would carry us into the future, and it worked. The chapel opened in 2012 and has become popular year-round, but especially in the winter months when couples want to feel close to nature, but protected from the elements.
So, what’s next? Even amid the pandemic, there are simmering plans for growth. We’ve been working with community partners to bring a new hotel to the neighborhood, and were all set to break-ground when COVID hit. The hotel feels like a natural next step, so we can offer couples and their guests a place to stay within easy walking distance of the Abernethy venues. At this point, we’re hoping to begin construction in summer 2021.
What a journey! I learned a lot about Abernethy’s history writing this article and so hope you found it enjoyable! To me, the stories behind each venue were heartwarming. It’s an optimistic history, which feels especially inspiring in the midst of this challenging time. The Abernethy story is very much one of innovative thinking, taking chances, and listening to community feedback. If they ask for it and you build it, they will come. We have much to be grateful for and look forward to growing with our community for many years to come!
Abernethy Center is truly one of a kind! A full-service wedding and reception venue just on the outskirts of Portland in the heart of historical Oregon City. Our property features two distinct gardens, a gorgeous chapel and a classic, elegant Grand ballroom spread out over 9 acres. With nearly twenty years in business, an expert culinary team, and a tremendous staff experienced in providing exceptional service, we have everything for the perfect, uniquely yours Oregon wedding.
Abigail’s Garden —– Veiled Garden—–Abernethy Chapel—–Grand Ballroom