HOWES CAVE — Little did George Henry I, a farmer and master mason who helped to build the New York State Capitol building in Albany, know that one day, the farm he started for generations of his family would become the site of nuptials for hundreds of couples.
Over the past six years, Robin Stine and her family have been breathing new life into the 19th-century Schoharie County dairy farm. Stine, along with husband, Troy, and two of their daughters, Lindsey McCord and Caitlin Hood, have transformed Henry Hill Farm into a place for weddings and other celebrations.
The Stines moved to the Capital Region from Florida six years ago, seeking to be close to their oldest daughter who had moved to Schenectady in 2011 and started a family. “She went and had a grandbaby on me,” Stine said. “I spent a lot of time flying back and forth between Florida and New York.”
The couple had owned a chain of mall stores and, after the economy tanked in 2008, had been thinking about closing them. The sluggish economy, coupled with grandchildren, enticed them to relocate. Stine wanted a town convenient to where she grew up in Prattsville, Greene County, where her mother still lives, and to her daughter in Schenectady. They found a location that met their needs at Henry Hill Farm in Howes Cave.
FULL OF POTENTIAL
In addition to the home they live in, there was an old, neglected dairy barn on the property, full of junk. But Stine didn’t see disrepair. Instead, she saw potential.
“It was just kind of a thing that when I saw the barn, it cried out that it needed to be something more than an old barn that was dilapidated,” she said. Once the family started cleaning it out, the barn “took on an essence of its own,” Stine said.
She and her husband became business partners with the property’s owner, Robert Fasanella, and they began a complete reconstruction of the barn.
Henry Hill Farm in Schoharie County.
“We spent almost a year working every day from 10 a.m. to 3 a.m.,” she said. In order to keep the barn, which they’ve dated to the late 1800s or early 1900s, as close to original as possible, she and her husband cut down trees from the property and had them milled at a nearby Amish mill so that they could use them in the reconstruction. “My husband’s a great carpenter,” Stine said, noting their other DIY skills. “He knows plumbing and I do electric.”
The family transformed the old barn into a charming and rustic yet elegant venue for weddings, baby and bridal showers, and birthday and graduation parties. In its first year, they hosted two weddings for brides who booked the then-unfinished venue solely on Robin’s vision for it.
The barn’s doors open into an empty floor area that serves as a dance floor, flanked by two seating areas, one upper and one lower, where Stine can accommodate 150 to 200 guests. Outside on the deck, which overlooks a creek, the venue offers a cocktail hour before the reception. Upstairs is a bridal suite where couples can spend the night and another room for the groom and his groomsmen to use on the day of the wedding. Downstairs, there is a room with a pool table where guests can hang out and relax.
Not far from the barn is a ceremony site with an arbor and benches constructed from tree trunks split in half. Stine and her daughters decorate the arbor with seasonal accoutrements from the farm.
Stine, with the help of two of her daughters, sought to create a one-stop shop for brides and grooms, and others who wanted to use the venue, in order to simplify planning. “We’re trying to make the bride and groom’s life a little less stressful with planning,” said McCord, who offers photography through her business, LinZ Photography.
Stine, owner of Robin’s Catering, provides catering services, including wedding cakes if requested. She tailors the menu to the bride’s and groom’s tastes, encouraging them to take a look at Pinterest and suggest dishes. She also has a list of prior offerings for clients to peruse.
Rachel Lefebvre, a Cobleskill High School graduate who now lives in Tully, Onondaga County, got married in August last year at Henry Hill Farm. She gives the catering high marks. “It was amazing. Everyone raved about the food we had at the wedding,” she said, noting that staff packed up all of the leftovers and sent them home with her family, as well as preparing a meal for her and her new husband for the bridal suite. Stine also baked their cake. “The whole venue smelled like cake when we were getting ready,” she said.
Hood serves as event coordinator. She meets with the couple to determine what they want at their wedding and serves as the go-to person on the wedding day, making sure everything is running smoothly, that all vendors are greeted and have what they need, and that everyone is where they’re supposed to be at the right time.
Lefebvre found Hood’s services “super helpful.”
“She let me know what time it was and when things were going to happen,” Lefebvre said. There was attention to detail there, too. Staff supplied snacks and drinks to the wedding party and family when they were completing photos post-ceremony while guests were having a cocktail hour.
Henry Hill Farm in Schoharie County.
McCord’s business, LinZ Photography, naturally coordinates with her mother’s and sister’s. “When my mom started the whole renovation of the barn, it really triggered me to go after my dream of being a photographer,” McCord said. “I love seeing the look on the groom’s face when he sees his future bride,” she said.
The property has several different places to take photos, including creekside, on the deck, in a field with trees in the distance or with hay bales, to name a few.
Stine partners with a DJ to provide music and there is the option to ride in on a horse-drawn carriage.
While clients have the option to use a package deal, they also have the flexibility to bring in their own services. Erin Hutchins of Spencer, Massachusetts, who grew up in Fonda and married at Henry Hill in September last year, chose the package deal, including a bonfire on the hillside post-reception. “They just made it so simple and everything just came out so perfect,” she said. Lefebvre used Robin’s Catering, but she brought in her own photographer and DJ.
The goal is to provide couples as many options as possible and to do it affordably.
“The [wedding] business has just gone crazy,” Stine said. “It’s gotten out of control. People shouldn’t have to mortgage their houses and take a out a loan to afford a nice wedding. Having several daughters, we understand that,” she said.
“When I first started doing research about this and how much people were charging, I’ve watched other venues go from charging a certain amount to really, really over the top,” she said.
“Their prices were so reasonable,” Lefebvre said. “What we ended up getting on the day of our wedding just completely blew away our expectations.”
The family puts a high priority on customer service. “They’re available by text throughout the whole planning process,” Hutchins said.
“Robin was just so on top of it,” Lefebvre said. “She was so in tune to all of our needs,” she said, noting that Stine thought about things that Lefebvre had forgotten. When Lefebvre didn’t have decorations for the wedding cake, staff went to the farm’s garden and picked flowers to match the wedding’s color scheme and pulled a cake topper out of storage. “They’re very thoughtful about what they do. They have a plan, and they enact it flawlessly.”
This kind of accommodation and attention to detail stems in part from the business’ family-oriented philosophy. “We try to treat all of them like family because that’s what we would want,” Hood said, noting that even other staff are close friends, akin to extended family.
Stine’s family loves working together. “Probably the best thing in my life is working with my daughters, to be able to spend time with them,” Stine said.
The feeling is mutual. “She blows my mind with every single wedding she does — coming up with something unique and amazing,” said Hood of her mother.
The family’s attitude toward the work they do and what they are able to accomplish as a result fuel McCord’s love of the business. “I love working with my family,” she said. “We all have the same worth ethic. We’re all very hard workers. We work fast-paced, so we get a lot done with just the three of us.”
The family’s enjoyment is apparent to their clients, and they seek to make them feel comfortable during the planning and event. “I love the family environment they give you,” Lefebvre said.
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The family will be working again this year to expand the venue’s offerings. Last fall, they dug a pond with an island in order to create a second ceremony site. The island is large enough to put an arbor on it, and they plan to build a bridge arching over to the island. The pond also has a beach area. “You would be able to have a beach wedding in the mountains,” Stine said.
Also on the docket is a second area for wedding receptions and other celebrations. It will feature a pavilion with a large fireplace and bar area, accommodating up to 250 people.
In winter, when the wedding business is slow, it’s planning time.
“We’re throwing around ideas all the time,” Stine said. One is to build cabins of different sizes on the 75-acre farm to house overnight guests right on the property. Some would be small, others would have separate bedrooms and lofts to house larger parties. She pictures Henry Hill Farm as the perfect place for family reunions.
“There is a real need for that around here,” she said. “There really aren’t a lot of places that do that kind of stuff,” she said.
“We have lots of plans,” Stine said. “We’re trying to do it and still keep it all so it’s still affordable for people,” she said.
Stine and her daughters have developed a deep closeness working together, and it has produced positive results for clients.
“It’s very rewarding to have hundreds of people coming and saying, ‘We had a wonderful time. This was a wonderful wedding, and this is a great place.’ It makes everybody here feel so good,” Stine said.