Brick by Brick
It’s a different wedding photo, to be sure.
Their names are Kyle and Liz, and they’re standing, decked out in formal clothes, in front of a 110-year-old mill, with boarded-up windows on the top floor and chipped bricks at their feet. It’s a striking scene, and it’s not for everyone, Erin Witmer said.
“It is part of the charm here,” she said of the environs of the Boylston Rooms, her new event space located in the Keystone building on Pleasant Street in Easthampton, next to another notable restored mill, Eastworks. “If you’re looking for a ‘perfect,’ new kind of space, you’re probably not going to look here. We definitely have some of the charm and character of the original space.”
The engaged couples and others who book the venue for a broad variety of events, however, immediately ‘get’ it, she added.
“Last year was pretty tremendous. The first couples that booked their weddings here, they looked at it when it was just an empty warehouse space, and were able to see what it could be. And it’s been incredibly positive since then.”
Witmer and her husband bought the historic Keystone building in 2015 with the goal of opening an event space that offered something memorable and different from more traditional venues, she told BusinessWest.
“I first started in events at the Inn at Northampton, before it was the Clarion, doing banquet and event work there,” she recalled. “It was a very traditional banquet hall, and it got me thinking about what I valued in an event space and what I’d like for my own event space. I really wanted a space where people could personalize it, a blank canvas where people can bring in their own ideas and dreams and design thoughts, and could create whatever space they’d like to create. It’s a very flexible place, and you can make it whatever you want it to be.”
The venue includes two main areas — the 3,800-square-foot West Room, which can accommodate 300 seated guests or 600 standing, and can be divided into two smaller spaces; and the 2,700-square-foot East Room, with space for 200 seated or 500 standing — as well as an outdoor patio. Weddings often use all of it, with perhaps a ceremony in one of the two large rooms and a reception in the other.
Since opening in September, Witmer said, the Boylston Rooms have hosted many weddings, with plenty of positive response from the couples and guests alike, and bookings for 2018 are pouring in even faster. “We’re super blessed interms of response from the community.”
But the space accommodates many other events as well, from the inaugural ball for Easthampton’s new mayor to a fund-raiser for the town’s Fire Department; from a TEDx talk in November to upcoming events like an awards banquet and a play reading — all of them surrounded by the original wood columns, exposed brick, and visible ductwork that gives the building, as Witmer said, its considerable charm.
The Keystone building traces its history to the turn of the 20th century, when the West Boylston Co., a textile manufacturer incorporated in 1814, was forced to leave its namesake town when the Wachusett reservoir, which would have completely submerged the mill site, was in its planning stages.
In 1899, the company decided to dismantle the mill brick by brick and send it by train to Easthampton, where those same bricks were used to build Eastworks in 1908, and Keystone between 1907 and 1912.
“People enjoy the sense of history here, and we tried to keep as many historical elements of the space intact,” Witmer said. “When we purchased it, this was a gigantic, empty warehouse.”
But there was plenty of potential in the hardwood floors, the floor-to-ceiling windows, and the views of the Holyoke Range outdoors. She purposely kept her restoration plan simple, from incorporation of original fixtures as much as possible to the white-centric color design, which complements whatever palette each event booker wants to incorporate.
Parties have used string lights, LED uplighting, and other touches. “And you can hang things from the beams,” Witmer said. “We had a bride who made wreaths, which are amazing. Another bride made hundreds of paper cranes, which we hung from the beams; they were really spectacular, and something I never would have thought of. People can bring in their own ideas and their own dreams for the space, and we can make it happen.”
Meanwhile, Keystone is bustling with other activity, with its east wing fully tenanted by a range of businesses, its west wing quickly approaching full capacity, and plans to develop residential units on the third floor starting this spring. “So there’s a lot happening,” she added.
So it’s a busy time in the old mill, but not so much that service suffers; Witmer likes being a hands-on partner to groups that rent the Boylston Rooms, and has a special place in her heart for weddings.
“It’s a really special day, and on a very simple level, I love being able to make people happy — even in the smallest things, from having complementary champagne to making sure the DJ is playing the music they want to hear, or that every hanging thing is perfect, or that they’ve got all their gifts in the car at the end of the night,” she explained.
“A lot of times, the bride will turn to me before coming in — ‘do I look OK?’ And I can say, ‘yes, you look beautiful, and straighten their necklace, and they go in. Those little moments are incredibly important and special.”
The Big Day
‘Special’ is what Witmer was looking for when she and her husband invested in a run-down building that has become an economic engine on Pleasant Street — and a place where people can celebrate events large and small in a space that’s anything but the same old venue. People like Kyle and Liz.
“I love being a part of somebody’s wedding day,” Witmer said. “Every time the doors open and I see a bride and her father walking in, I tear up — every single time. It’s such an important day in someone’s life, and to be a part of it is such an honor.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org