Nathalie Pettus

Overlook Farm owner Nathalie Pettus stands amid a sea of peonies. She and her staff have been working to provide a safe environment for weddings. Photo by Stan Schwartz

Business that specializes in weddings is finding its way

CLARKSVILLE—High in the hills overlooking the river town of Clarksville sits Overlook Farm. Its history and the town’s history are closely intertwined.

After the coronavirus pandemic raced across the country, and Gov. Mike Parson, closed non-essential businesses, Overlook Farm was faced with a grim reality. The 325-acre farm, which has five inns and venues for large and small weddings, as well as other events, had to deal with a new reality in how it handles its day-to-day operations.

As a working farm, it already had been innovating, utilizing sustainable food production and new farming techniques that support a more organic lifestyle. The farm, its store and its inns are geared toward a peaceful harmony with the environment. With its wide-open vistas and shady nooks, Overlook Farm is a welcome respite in a world forever changed by a pandemic.

Fifth generation owner Nathalie Pettus said the farm, which had at one time boasted 1,000 acres, has been in her family since the late 1700s.

“It was granted to my great-great grandfather, Antoine Saugerain, by the King of Spain,” she said. “He was the first French doctor in St. Louis, and he was awarded this because of his work with small pox.” Part of the property might still be from that original land grant, she explained. Her great grandfather, George Tower, on her father’s side of the family, ran the farm as an orchard. He bought the property in the late 1890s.

“He really enjoyed himself up here,” she said. “In that era, this was like the American [version of British TV series] ‘Upstairs, Downstairs.’ It was accessible by the train, and people would come and stay for weekend parties.”

She even has some guest books from that time. There were other families in the area that had similar take on life, spending weeks at a time under the great shade trees. An annual turkey shoot was quite the social event of the year.

“The winner would host the next year’s event,” Nathalie said.

“My grandfather was very involved in apple production,” she added. “He was part of the Pike County Apple Producers.” She said he would wrap young apples with a stencil so that just the letters would ripen. “So, it would be people’s names or it would say ‘Overlook,’ the name of the farm,” she said. “At one point he sent a truckload of apples to President Truman with the letters HST on all of them.”

And he gave the Golden Raintree to the town of Clarksville.

Even though Nathalie’s grandmother grew up in the city, she loved being at Overlook Farm.

“It was her Tara,” Nathalie said. “She would ride a white stallion carrying pearl-handled revolvers, and have a pack of dogs. Often she would go and shoot transformers. She was quite the character.”

Nathalie said her father and uncle had different interests when it came to the farm. Her uncle hybridized day lilies and bread beagles. Her father was into horses.

“He showed five gated saddle horses,” she said. At one time they had 30 Shetland ponies on the property. He also bread Appaloosas and loved playing polo.

The farm was worked mostly as an orchard until the 1960s, Nathalie said. Higher paying jobs at the incoming cement plant, Dundee/Holcim, drew away workers from the orchards, eventually causing the Pike County Apple Producers to shut down the business.

“One producer cut down 600 acres of apple trees,” she recalled from her youth.

“It was incredibly sad. This was known as apple town,” she said.

“This is a beautiful area,” she added. “My father used to say this area is a cross between England, Vermont and Virginia. And it truly is.”

Nathalie said she started planning the operation in 2003 and bought property in 2004 to bring her vision to life.

“Initially, I was going to make it like a St. Louis Bread Company store,” she said. But then people wanted steaks and other things, so the idea and the operation kept growing. There is a store where they sell grass-fed beef and pork products, as well as a gift shop with books and other items to temp the traveler.

And then the inns were added to the farm along with Avalon Hall, the largest venue on the property. It’s huge doors remind one of an old castle. In fact, there was a “Game of Thrones” inspired wedding held within its rich wooden walls.

Each inn, including the oldest in the state of Missouri, has been meticulously restored and modernized to provide amenities most people expect from a five-star hotel in the middle of a big city. The five inns still retain their old world charms, but also have WiFi for those who cannot unplug from the world. Although once on the property, the outside world becomes just a distant memory. Every view is spectacular and every nook has a place where one can sit and read or just enjoy the beautiful landscape and the colorful flowers. It’s nature at its finest. Combined, the five inns can house up to 32 guests. One has an outdoor pool, and another has a hot tub in an attached greenhouse. Most rooms have Jacuzzis, as well.

All the animals on the farm are raised in a healthy environment, Nathalie said. Their health, as well as her guests’ health, are most important to her and her staff. That’s why they came up with an Elopement Wedding Package. People who are worried about large gatherings, she said, might be more comfortable with a smaller ceremony.

“It makes so much sense to get married, just the two of them, safely,” Nathalie said. “And then next year, have that big party when it’s safe.” And this is a lovely place to elope, she added.

She and her staff have spent that last few weeks deep cleaning everything. They have a specialized fogger being delivered, which can eliminate viruses from a building’s interior. They will also have face masks for guests if they want them, especially if more than one couple are sharing one of the inns. They have instructions for maintaining social distancing on the property. And because there is so much room, maintaining that distance is easy.

At the start of the pandemic, they had to say no to weddings and shut the inns down for overnight stays and dinners. Nathalie reduced her staff from 15 to seven people. They are just now starting tours for people looking for a wedding venue.

Wedding coordinator Katie Smithers said they had taken a break last year from doing weddings while they realigned the business. They partnered with a company out of St. Louis, who would handle large weddings of more than 50 people. Smaller parties, she said, they can take care of on their own.

“We handle the bar, the food, the ceremony, and the inns,” Katie said. “We do the elopement packages and small garden weddings, as well.”

The entire area has been created as the perfect wedding venue. There is even a bridal cottage tucked away across the road to give the bridal party a place to get ready and once the ceremony and celebration are done, it provides the newly married couple privacy from the rest of the guests. Katie was prepping to give a wedding tour the following day. Although there are no wedding scheduled so far for this year, she said they would be getting everything in place for the 2021 season.

One of the outdoor wedding venues sits high on a point that overlooks Clarksville and the Mississippi River. The path to the point is lined with outdoor lighting for evening weddings.

“The whole goal is to have people want to come and stay with us, and not have to go anywhere else,” she said.

Katie, who has been working at the farm for three years, said they have a few ADA compliant rooms and one inn that is child friendly. They are also looking to book more small gatherings, such as girl’s or guy’s getaways.

For reservations or to view Overlook Farm and all it has to offer, go to https://www.overlookfarmmo.com.

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