A change has taken place in the landscape of Salem. The Salem Herbfarm Nursery, which lasted 18 years, closed in 2015, only to be reborn as an event venue that has become the scene of many elegant celebrations.
Herbfarm owners Joe and Anne Duncan have achieved a stunning transformation of the property, creating a “unique place of beautiful gardens and peaceful gardens for your enchanting ceremony” or any other special occasion.
But no sooner had the project started than a much bigger personal challenge presented itself. Anne’s previous diagnosis of breast cancer in 2004 worsened in 2015. Intensive treatments became a constant in the Duncan’s life as Anne stoically battled the disease throughout Herbfarm’s ongoing transformation. .
The last year of her life required an increasingly aggressive treatment regimen, but the cancer continued to progress. Sadly, Anne, the original heart and soul of the nursery and new location, passed away in December 2020.
âAnne has had a huge influence on the history of The Salem Herbfarm, which will continue well into the future,â said Joe Duncan.
The Duncan’s initially acquired the property at 320 Hartford Road (Route 85) in 1991, including the 1840 main house, barn and shed. He had been in Anne’s family since 1915.
âThe first thing I did was completely empty the house,â Joe said recently. He is most definitely a “practical” guy and has been improving the property since then.
Duncan retired from the United States Coast Guard in 1995. Anne, with her innate talent for working with plants, had honed her horticultural skills by working in nurseries across the country on their way to various assignments. She knew the business and opened Salem Herbfarm in 1997 as a retail nursery.
But 18 years later, a new dream has emerged. They envisioned the palpable New England vibe of the property as an event venue and decided to completely renovate the landscape.
A closing sale of the nursery took place in June 2015 and the Duncan’s spent the following year developing a project, working with Salem officials for approval. By October 2016, the permits were in place and the Duncan’s spent the next three years making their dream come true.
Joe Duncan undertook the necessary renovations with his own hands.
The barn has been enlarged and converted into a banquet hall, including two large toilets accessible to disabled people, a changing room for brides and a secluded dining area for warming, cooling and serving.
Duncan refurbished and reused some of the building’s original materials. Exterior cladding and flooring planks have become finished interior walls, old strap hinges have been polished for use on doors, and farm tools and curios are helping decorate the new structure. It now exudes a rustic elegance perfect for fine dining.
The barn can accommodate celebrations of up to 140 people. Outside, the old greenhouse has been transformed into a large modern covered pavilion that can accommodate 200 people, with an extended blue stone patio. Tables can overflow from a shelter in good weather, where chairs surround a fire pit.
The grounds of the Salem Herbfarm bring sophistication to the outdoors with spectacular gardens and landscaping.
The old nursery cashier has been converted into a small outdoor bar, located in the center of the field.
After more than three years of renovations, almost all of the impressive work of Joe Duncan, the first wedding event took place in October 2019. Anne saw their dream come true.
Cristine Donaruma and Dan Jones of Waterford discovered the Salem Herbfarm while searching online for local wedding venues. Cristine said: “We were planning during the pandemic and wanted an outdoor space. We loved the place as soon as we saw it. Our guests were delighted, and even the caterers asked us how we got lucky. find this place. The Herbfarm has fulfilled our desire for a beautiful outdoor wedding venue that doesn’t seem stuffy or pretentious. “
She also noted how “the owners made us feel comfortable with their vision”.
SUBTITLE: “A unique reminder here at home”
As I walked around the property with Duncan recently, we approached two rows of tall majestic Romanesque columns that had intrigued me years ago when I frequented the old nursery.
Made of Portland cement, perlite and peat moss, they once bordered a herb garden below. Now they frame a lawn and stone photography scene and arbor. How did such classic symbols of a past civilization appear on a New England farm? âI made them,â says Joe. “Anne and I had been to Italy and wanted to create a unique memory here at home. The eight columns are over six feet high and drop three feet into the ground.”
Another attractive element of the outdoor ambience is its lighting. Duncan’s daughter Elizabeth Muscarelli, now Herbfarm director, says: âWe have learned that the best time of day for a ceremony is early in the evening, followed by a reception at nightfall. . The change of atmosphere caused by the lights at dusk is magical. Then we really become a special place. “
This vision comes from the legacy of Anne Duncan and the close family ties within the Herbfarm management team. The granddaughter Hannah Anthony, representing the sixth generation, embarks next spring as a full partner of Elizabeth.
âThey should be a good team,â says Joe Duncan, as the company looks to the years to come.
Weddings are booming again and Herbfarm hopes to meet its current target of 50 events per year soon.
Celebrants are responsible for hiring their own catering, bartending and entertainment staff, although Herbfarm staff may make recommendations based on their past successes.
The cost for four-hour events ranges from $ 2,500 (plus Connecticut sales tax) for a weekday, up to $ 4,000 for weekends and holidays. Additional hours can be added at an additional cost. The Herbfarm website, salemherbfarm.com, features more pricing options, contract details, and a photo gallery of the venue.
Herbfarm management is already looking beyond weddings.
âWe certainly see ourselves doing corporate events as well,â says Elizabeth. âOur barn and covered outdoor pavilion are perfect for large gatherings, while our many sequestered seating areas lend themselves very well to smaller networking sessions.â
John Steward writes a monthly column called Tossing Lines for the Times regional newspapers. He can be contacted at [email protected]