A Welcome Retreat: Juliane James Place

Introducing Minnesota’s newest outdoor wedding venue and the ambitious brides who started it all.

Past Pine Lake, grazing horses, buzzing tractors, a cow-crossing sign, the city of Finlayson (pop. 314), and down a dirt road where deer politely step around cars, you’ll find Juliane James Place, a beautiful new wedding venue founded in 2010 by newlyweds Alyson and Jesse Newquist. From the Twin Cities, it’s a two-hour drive. From Duluth, it takes an hour. From where Alyson and Jesse started, it took considerably longer.

They met in 2006 at a Brooklyn-based nonprofit where they both worked. At first Jesse, the more reticent of the two, found Alyson somewhat forward, because she kept coming into Jesse’s office all the time. As it turns out, Alyson had a major crush on Jesse—as in everyone at work knew about it except Jesse, as in Alyson went to the far bathroom and photocopier because the route took her past Jesse’s desk. When they finally started going out, they established a clearly labeled finish line: after 20 dates, they’d end the relationship.

“We saw so many people lose themselves in relationships,” Alyson explained. “When you redirect focus toward another person, you can lose focus on your own self-development.” So with the clock ticking, they made those dates count. They tried to do things they’d never done before: They went to a drive-in movie (Superbad), the Tenement Hall Museum, the Sculpture Park in Astoria, on a guided history tour of the Bronx. After the dreaded 20th date, they broke up, didn’t talk for two weeks, realized that was ridiculous, and decided to continue their self-development journeys together.

On the road    

With this newfound commitment to one another, Alyson and Jesse quit their jobs and drove across the country. Their mission was to find out where they’d like to live next and see what they wanted to do with their lives, individually and as a couple. They crammed everything they thought they’d need into a Prius: a laptop, journals, camping gear, vintage clothing they bought in small towns and sold at a profit in big cities, a fishing pole they never used, and a five-pound dog they rescued in California. After seven months, having gone from coast to coast, they moved to Minneapolis, a city they found culturally similar to New York, but not nearly as exhausting. Alyson worked as a strategic campaign researcher; Jesse ran a first-time homebuyers program, even though (full disclosure) their house in the Twin Cities was the first she’d ever bought.

Through owning their own home—putting down flooring, building Murphy beds in closets and putting bookshelves on walls—they discovered they were much handier than they’d imagined. They also discovered, on their trek across the country, that there were a whole lot of miles between Brooklyn and San Francisco. They were not only two women traveling alone, but they were also a same-sex couple navigating some potentially inhospitable places. When they held hands in small towns, or even in cities, they felt as if they didn’t blend in. As they sought safe places across America, they were engaged in a constant analysis of space. When they settled in Minnesota, Jesse says they wanted “to create a space where people feel free, and where we feel free.”
A new adventure
In March 2010 the couple bought a cabin and a 1,600-square-foot house on 40 acres of land between Finlayson and Willow River. They have since turned the property into Juliane James Place, a wedding venue for people who want to get married in an open space—literally and metaphorically—without the burden of others’ assumptions. The venue caters to creative couples who believe weddings are an art, a way of expressing themselves and their love. Fittingly, the first couple to get married at Juliane James Place was Alyson and Jesse.

Their wedding had a “turn-of-the-century wonders” theme: The invitations were shadow boxes that could be reused as picture frames; RSVP cards were scrolls fitted into stamped test tubes that could be dropped in any U.S. mailbox; seating assignments were printed on tiny slides that guests viewed through Victorian microscopes; the centerpieces were Marconi-style light bulbs. For the ceremony, friends and family sat in wooden pews salvaged from a church in Wisconsin. For the reception, they ate dinner on hand-built harvest tables, seated on antique folding chairs. The pews, chairs and tables are all available for rent at Juliane James Place, but couples aren’t required to use them. As Alyson explains, “We offer our place up as a blank slate.”

The 40-acre grounds of Juliane James Place, which was named for Jesse’s mom Julie, and Alyson’s late parents, James and Diane, provide plenty of natural wonders. Cocktail hour can be held in a secluded garden fragrant with wildflowers. Bushes heavy with blueberries, blackberries and raspberries highlight the summer season. Sparrows and other birds freshen up in an elegant stone birdbath. At the ceremony site, an aisle made of stones from the property leads to a small stage overlooking a peaceful pond. Guests can take a half-mile walk along the trail surrounding that pond, or take a paddleboat directly onto the water; they can even catch frogs if they want. They can also peer through a telescope up at the stars, or dance in a clearing surrounded by a grove of 75-foot oak, maple and birch trees.

For complicated weddings that require a significant setup, or for couples who want to spend some extra time with their friends and family, the property can be rented for several days leading up to the big event. Combined, the cabin and main house fit up to 14, and guests can also stay at the many nearby motels, inns, and bed and breakfasts; a local bus company runs shuttles back and forth. Non-local options—for example, a St. Paul DJ or a Duluth catering company—are also welcome.

Room for creativity
Centrally located between the Twin Cities and Duluth, Juliane James Place hosts vendors from both areas. Outside wedding planners are not only welcome, but encouraged, “because we know how awesome they are,” Alyson says. Julianejames.com lists a number of different packages, some of which include Alyson’s event-planning experience for brides who want to discuss design details and day-of coordination.

The space is big enough that couples can have their rehearsal dinner down by the cabin in an area that feels completely different from the reception site, which can fit a 40-by-60-foot tent for almost 180 guests. On one side of the clearing sits a stack of recently cut wood, waiting to become the next hand-built table, the next bed, the next as-yet-undiscovered project.

Jesse never thought she’d one day own a chainsaw, much less use it so frequently. Alyson never would’ve imagined any of this. “I had a much more fixed idea of what I was going to do with my life until I met Jesse,” she says. “And then I was like, ‘Anything’s possible.’ ”

Wedding Recipe
Alyson and Jesse christened Juilane James Place with their own wedding, using a host of stellar vendors.

Photography: Photogen Inc. | Bridal gowns: Joynoelle | Bridesmaid dresses: Amsale and Jenny Yoo from Flutter Boutique | Best man attire: Calvin Klein | Flowers: Munster Rose | Setup and day-of coordination: Laura Mullen Event Design | Catering and cakes: New Scenic Cafe | French macarons and cupcakes: Sweets Bakeshop | Wedding design, stationery design, favors and bridal accessories: Alyson Newquist Events | Music: Flow DJ | Rings: Bill Plates, Goldsmith, and Hava Lazar | Antiques: Courtesy of Giese Bed & Breakfast and property of Juliane James Place | Rentals: Midway Party Rentals | Alyson’s shoes: Betsey Johnson | Jesse’s shoes: Colin Stuart