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When Sarah Miller and Douglas Neeley joined Tinder, neither could fathom that swiping right would ultimately lead to an epic October wedding at Belle Meade Plantation. Despite their initial reluctance, close friends convinced them both to join the popular online dating app, and it didn’t take long for the pair to form a connection. After their first date at an outdoor wine bar, Sarah called her best friend to say, “I just met my husband.”

Though the couple met while living in Florida, Douglas was offered his dream job in Nashville a mere six months after they’d been dating, and he couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a bold career move to the corporate offices of Hospital Corporation of America. Meanwhile, Sarah couldn’t turn down Douglas’s invitation to join him, particularly when he told her, “You’re my person, and I’m not leaving without you!” The first time Sarah ever set foot in Tennessee was the day they moved, and Music City took her by surprise. “I had no idea Nashville was a booming metropolis,” she admits. “I was like, ‘Where are the dirt roads and the boots?’ Thankfully, the couple quickly settled in, with Sarah establishing a new career as Director of Operations for local real estate firm, The Anderson Group.

Bride and groom walking and laughing

The Neeleys said “I do” at 5:30 in the evening on October 18, 2019, at Belle Meade Plantation.

After two years of dating, Sarah had a little surprise up her sleeve, whisking Douglas away on a trip to the East Coast to visit her New Jersey hometown and check out the sights in New York City. Little did she know, Douglas had a surprise of his own. “He’d always wanted to go to Central Park and The Plaza Hotel,” Sarah explains, “so I surprised him with a Valentine’s Day trip to New York City. Unbeknownst to me, he turned that surprise right around on me!” In fact, Douglas had already reached out to her mom and stepdad to ask for her hand in marriage, and a proposal was right around the corner.

A Valentine’s Day walk in New York City led the couple to an old stone walking bridge in Central Park. “There were couples everywhere,” Sarah recalls. “One person had this huge heart balloon, and the ice skating rink had couples on it. I turned around to find Douglas on one knee. He was so nervous that he didn’t even put the ring on my finger; he just handed it to me! But he said the most romantic things, and people were clapping when I said, ‘yes.’” The perfect ending to their Valentine’s Day and their new engagement, the couple then headed over to The Plaza Hotel, where Douglas had made celebratory reservations at the champagne bar.

It didn’t take long for the wedding planning to ensue, and Sarah already had a venue in mind. Though the couple briefly considered a destination wedding, they opted to stay in Nashville to ensure their elderly family members could attend. The Belle Meade Plantation seemed to be the perfect choice for something closer to home, possessing just the right amount of Southern elegance and intimate romance they wanted for their special day. “Belle Meade Plantation was a staple on my take-a-tour-if-you’re-a-newbie-in-Nashville list,” Sarah tells us. “My friend and I went there and visited a while back, and I even have a picture of us walking down the same aisle my husband and I ended up walking down when we got married. I remember saying to her, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if I got married here one day?’” Her prophetic comment set the stage for their future plans, and much to her surprise, the plantation had an opening in October, which was less than 10 months away. She thanked her lucky stars, snagged it, and dove headfirst into planning.

The Belle Meade Plantation stables, lit up in the evening

One glimpse of the Belle Meade Plantation at dusk, and it’s clear why the Neeleys chose the historic landmark for their ceremony and reception venue.

Though the Belle Meade Plantation grounds offer stunning built-in views that set the stage for a picturesque wedding, the bride knew her first step was finding a wedding planner to fill in the rest of the details. “At Belle Meade Plantation, you bring everything in,” says the bride. “It’s a beautiful backdrop.” Acknowledging their hectic work schedules, Sarah had no doubt a bit of coordination assistance was in order, and Alice Hendry was an ideal match. Meeting with her new coordinator quickly led to discussions about where to shop for a dress, which is how Sarah ended up at Glitz Nashville. “I knew that I wanted a long-sleeved ball gown,” says Sarah. “At first, I didn’t listen to Alice and went somewhere else, and they only had couture, mermaid, and A-line dresses. Then we went to Glitz Nashville.” The true litmus test, she and her mom both cried when she tried on “the one.” When it came to choosing a color scheme, the bride and groom opted for burgundy and navy with gold accents — a rich autumn palette — and they enlisted the help of florist Lauren Atkinson to execute their vision.

Bride getting ready at Belle Meade Plantation

“My dress was a piece of art,” Sarah says of the stunning gown she found at Glitz Nashville.

Close-up of bride's bouquet

Bright burgundy florals from Lauren Atkinson Designs offer a majestic pop of color against the bride’s beautiful gown.

As the guest list began to form, it was clear the couple was looking for a small and memorable event. “We’re both in our 30s,” explains the bride. “This wasn’t going to be like a huge bash. We wanted to be really selective and purposeful with the people we invited — just our closest, most intimate friends and family there to celebrate our day. We also wanted to have a plated, sit-down dinner, and that’s really pricey, so we decided on 50 people.” When the big day finally arrived, the bridal party gathered at Belle Meade Plantation to toast with champagne and prepare for the festivities. Mother Nature cooperated in a big way, delivering perfect weather and a sunset that was made for wedding photos.

bride and groom kissing at sunset outside of Belle Meade Plantation stables

“I was knocking on wood the entire time,” Sarah says of their wedding day. “I couldn’t believe it when the day ended, and nothing went wrong! I was waiting for rain or for someone to fall on the uneven ground … those things happen at outdoor weddings, so you have to be as prepared as possible.” Not only did their day go off without a hitch, but the sunset also made for a beautiful backdrop.

Groom getting ready in stable at Belle Meade Plantation

The groom and his groomsmen utilized the historic Belle Meade Plantation stables as a dressing area.

Close-up of groom's tie and boutonniere

Details are everything. Even the groom’s boutonniere displays the Southern elegance that Sarah and Douglas envisioned, with delicate feathers complementing the deep jewel tones.

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Sarah touts the benefits of finding a wedding planner who’s familiar with the location. In fact, Alice’s own son had taken his vows at the Belle Meade Plantation only a year before, so she’d not only planned numerous weddings at the venue, she’s intimately familiar with attending them, too. Keeping in mind the time of day and the exact spot where the sun sets, Alice recommended Sarah and Douglas consider doing first looks in advance of the ceremony. “I love telling this story because we were adamant against it,” says Sarah. “This is why it’s worth finding a planner who knows the location. Alice said, ‘If you’re getting married at 5:30 p.m. in October, how much sunlight do you think that we’re going to have for all of these photographs? I don’t want you to be rushed.’”

The couple mulled it over for a while, ultimately deciding to take their planner’s advice and move forward with first looks. They couldn’t be happier with that decision. “It made sense, not only for capturing our photos, which turned out unbelievably well,” says Sarah, “but it also allowed us to have a private, intimate moment with each other.” As it turns out, their first glimpse of one another took place in the aisle they would be walking down to be married, making the moment even more poignant.

First looks, when groom kisses the bride's hand

“I didn’t want to be a bawling, hysterical mess walking down the aisle,” says the bride, “and when I look at my husband, that’s how I get. So, we decided to do first looks.”

Close-up of bride and groom holding hands

In a beautiful tribute to her father, who passed away seven years ago, Sarah’s mom cut out a heart-shaped patch from her own wedding dress, which Sarah then had sewn into hers so she could carry his memory down the aisle.

bridal party walking on the Belle Meade Plantation grounds

Sarah’s sister, Stephanie, served as her matron of honor, while Douglas chose his childhood best friend, Matt, as his best man.

Flower girls walking down the aisle

With five young nieces between them, Sarah and Douglas had the sweetest little flower girls!

Mint and mango fruit tea, served pre-ceremony

“We had our band playing strings with an edgy, modern twist to classical music,” Sarah says of the tone set for guests when they arrived for the ceremony. “It made it super fun. We passed out mango mint fruit tea — a very Southern thing to do when you’re coming up to a party.”

wedding ceremony for Sarah and Douglas Neeley at the Belle Meade Plantation

Officiated by a retired pastor, who Sarah describes as “the definition of what we were looking for, with Southern charm and very quick wit,” the couple exchanged relatively traditional vows in front of their family and friends.

bride and groom kissing after ceremony

Congratulations to the newlyweds!

Following the ceremony, guests sipped on champagne cocktails with Saint Germain and floating raspberries. A full-service bar was also available, and delicious Southern-inspired appetizers catered by Chef’s Market were passed around, including country ham and sweet potato biscuits, candied bacon-wrapped figs, and fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese. Inside the stables, one long table awaited everyone for a seated dinner, where they enjoyed a first-course of farmer’s salad featuring fried okra (in lieu of croutons) and served with a creamy buttermilk dressing. Assorted mini rolls accompanied the meal, with selections that included sweet chili cornbread and Parmesan herb rolls with whipped butter. The second course, a true Southern staple of shrimp and grits, was a huge hit. “I laughed when it was recommended,” says Sarah, who has never been a big fan of grits. “I didn’t grow up eating them, and I told Chef’s Market I wasn’t sure about it.” But the bride wound up eating her words … and the shrimp and grits, too, which she describes as creamy with smoked gouda and topped with Cajun spices, on a traditional roux and crawfish. The main course consisted of slow-roasted beef short ribs with a sauce of veal stock, Belle Meade Bourbon and tobacco onions, and accompanied by a side of roasted garlic mashed potatoes and honey-sriracha fall vegetables.

Champagne being poured for the bridal party

The bridal party enjoyed a celebratory toast with Dom Perignon, which holds special significance for Sarah and Douglas — it’s the same champagne they had at The Plaza Hotel on the evening of their engagement.

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One long dining table at the Neeley wedding reception

The stable interior hosted a seated dinner, with one long table running the length of the space. Café lights and table lanterns offer a sense of romance, with gold-accented dishes lending elegance to the design.

The bride and groom hold hands at the dinner table

The bride and groom share an intimate moment as they await their incredible feast from Chef’s Market.

Though they had the option of a grand, three-tiered wedding cake, Alice suggested Sarah and Douglas stick to something less elaborate. With only 50 guests, the couple decided to go a different route. “You’re buying the cake for a moment and a photograph or two, but really, those typically don’t make the highlights,” Sarah explains. Instead, they had Chef’s Market create a decadent single-layered cake with flowing lilies around it. Other bite-sized desserts were offered alongside the cake, such as s’mores on a stick (the bride’s favorite) and key lime pie in mini jars, so guests could munch on desserts and sip coffee all night long. The bride and groom shared their first dance to Old Dominion’s “One Man Band,” and the celebration continued until the couple made their grand exit … in none other than a Rolls Royce.

The bride and groom cut their cake

This single-layer cake from Chef’s Market was the perfect size for the Neeley’s 50-guest gathering.

Mini Dutch apple crumb pies at a Belle Meade Plantation wedding

These Dutch apple crumb pies in mason jars were another fun addition to the bite-sized dessert offerings.

The Blue Tones perform at the Neeley wedding reception

“I think the live jazz band was one of our biggest splurges, but the most rewarding,” Sarah tells us. “There’s nothing wrong with a DJ, but we’re in Music City! There are so many amazing singers and performers and bands here; we couldn’t imagine not having live music.” The couple found their ideal band in the Blue Tones.

The bride and groom depart their Belle Meade Plantation wedding

Given the plantation’s historic landmark status, most of the typical departure props (such as sparklers) aren’t permitted. Instead, guests waved ribbons, and the band played them out.

The bride and groom leave their wedding in a classic car

A classic departure, the newlyweds left their reception in a Rolls Royce, complete with a fully suited driver. Talk about leaving in style! Before dropping them off, the driver took them for a spin down Broadway — the couple felt like royalty. “People were screaming at us like we were famous,” says the bride.

When asked about her advice for future brides, Sarah is adamant that it’s all about enlisting a wedding planner’s help and having the right pair of shoes. “Wear comfortable shoes,” she says knowingly. “I can’t tell you how many times I have given that advice. I don’t know about everyone else, but since COVID, I haven’t put on a pair of heels. You’re probably on your feet for 10 hours during the whole wedding day set up, so do not feel like you have to conform to the norm — especially for the ladies out there who do not wear stilettos on the regular.” Sound advice for a little wedding day self-care!

Wishing you lifelong happiness, Mr. and Mrs. Neeley. Thank you for letting us celebrate your wedding story with you, and thanks to Divine Images for the photography.

RESOURCES

Ceremony and reception venues: Belle Meade Plantation
Photography: Divine Images
Wedding planner: Alice Hendry
Bride’s hair and makeup: Abigail Opdyke
Florals: Lauren Atkinson Designs
Invitations: Invitations Galore & More
Bride’s gown: Glitz Nashville
Bride’s shoes: Sorel
Bridesmaids’ dresses: Glitz Nashville
Groom’s outfit: Suitsupply  (suit) and Johnston & Murphy (shoes)
Caterer: Chef’s Market
Cake: Chef’s Market
Cake Linens: BBJ Linen
Band: Blue Tone Music
Rentals: Music City Tents & Events
Decor: Quest Events
Transportation: Matchless Transportation

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