By LYDIA BERGLAR
Anyone who’s driven through Wildwood on Highway 11 over the last several years has likely noticed the changes to the old brick building next to the Wildwood post office. The Bice family bought this property and transformed it into a wedding/event venue and Airbnb, officially opening on Jan. 1 of this year.
Now called The Venue at Wildwood, the historic structure was originally built by Raymond Stonewell Townsend, grandfather of Don Townsend (Dade County chief financial officer and county clerk).
Townsend explained the early history of the building, saying, “My grandfather, R.S. Townsend, was born here in Wildwood in 1896. In 1925, he was appointed postmaster and also became part owner of the general store. He built this building in 1936 as the second post office in Wildwood.”
The general store also moved into the building, with half of the front portion serving as the post office and the other half housing the store. “Back then, you bought everything here,” said Townsend. The store also included a service station, with gas pumps out front.
Known to locals as “the red brick building,” this location also stands out because of the railroad underpass directly across from it. The location was significant, because in those days, the railroad was an integral part of the mail system.
Townsend explained that his grandparents were in charge of the “mail on the fly” system, which involved mailbags hanging from a crane. As the train passed by, the mail hook grabbed the mailbag and the incoming mail was dropped off from the train’s postal car.
In addition to food, supplies, gas, and mail, the location also offered local news and gossip. According to Townsend, “My grandmother (Mary Catherine Cooley Townsend, wrote articles for the newspaper about Wildwood and the store. She said, ‘All the scuttlebutt came from right here.’ The store also had one of the earliest phone systems in Dade County. It was a party line, so of course some eavesdropping happened.” The Townsend family still has the original phone from the store.
The building has remained sound over time. “These are double bricked walls, like the courthouse in Trenton, which couldn’t be constructed overnight,” said Townsend. “If there was a tornado, this is the place to be.”
When R.S. died in 1961, Mary Catherine became the postmaster for several years. In about 1968 or 1969, the current Wildwood post office was built. After that, the red brick building was empty at times or housed little boutique stores and consignment shops.
With an appreciation for old buildings, the Bice family’s first renovation project was the oldest building in the Trenton city limits – the white corner building on the town square (originally the Odd Fellows building, now Corner Coffee). The Wildwood property became their second renovation project after purchasing it from Jim Franklin who had used it as the headquarters for his business.
“It looks spectacular. It really pops now,” said Townsend. “We’re excited about it from a family standpoint. The Bices took their time to do an excellent job on the remodel.”
While the exterior’s aesthetic has changed, many elements are original to the building, including several wooden doors, some wooden flooring, windows, and a clawfoot bathtub. Water and electricity had been kept up over the years, so the Bice’s mostly focused on interior and decor.
Victoria (Bice) McMahan, venue manager and director, said, “We opened up the front section of the reception hall. Basically, we just had to change some walls and update the decor. I wanted a simple green, white, and black theme so a bride could come in and make it her own.”
Knowing the significance of the red brick building, the family said they carefully considered whether or not to paint the exterior. “We know the historical significance to the community. It’s been through so many changes over the years, and this is where we’re at now.”
In addition to the reception hall, the large building includes a groom/groomsmen suite on the bottom floor and a larger bride/bridesmaid suite on the top floor (which can also be booked separately from events for Airbnb stays).
The smaller building to the western side of the building is the chapel. Townsend said, “That old building out back, I never would’ve thought you could transform it! It was a storage shed.”
McMahan said she enjoyed the renovations process. “Of course there were stressful times, but it was fun to watch it transform while also staying the same in many ways.”
The venue’s first wedding is coming up this spring. So far, the venue has had practice with birthdays, family events, and some guests in the Airbnb portion.
“Lilly Lou’s has been incredibly helpful,” the Bices noted. “The owners, Lea Kapherr and Rhonda Carrell, gave any advice we needed.”
The venue offers brides a list of vendor recommendations, including many vendors from the tri-state area. Thatchers in Trenton is one of the food/catering recommendations.
The Bice family hopes the building and property can bless the community, saying, “The people of Dade have such great memories of this building. This building has blessed so many generations and hopefully it will continue to bless generations from now.”
To view photos and learn more about The Venue at Wildwood, visit www.thevenueatwildwood.com, follow them on Instagram, @venueatwildwood, or find them on Facebook, www.facebook.com/venueww.