Text by Jennifer Poff Cooper
Photos by Natalie Gibbs Photography


Tradition was a key component to the successful wedding of Ashley Nelson and Allen Childress, natives of Grayson County and Shawsville, respectively. They met as freshmen at Emory & Henry College and dated about seven years before becoming engaged.

Ashley recalls the engagement scene: “As a Christmas present, Allen had gotten me jewelry. One piece would ship to me every month throughout the year. In September, he arranged for the box to ship to him instead of me, by ‘mistake.’ When I got to his house, he suggested I open the box, which had that month’s piece of jewelry, a bracelet, and a note asking me to marry him. He had the ring in his hand as he proposed, and I wore that bracelet in the wedding.”

The couple had an engagement photo shoot in October at Emory & Henry. “Campus is always beautiful,” Ashley says, “but even more so in the fall. We even considered having the wedding there, but ultimately decided on Firefly Hill Vineyards in the New River Valley.” Both the wedding and reception took place at the winery in Elliston. Allen’s cousins own the vineyard, and he had worked there. “We were there for a family member’s wedding the year before and loved how scenic and relaxing the location was,” Allen recalls. “It worked well because we also held the rehearsal dinner there, and I and several members of the bridal party stayed over the night before the wedding. It was an easy, all-in-one experience, and we loved that,” Ashley adds.

“We tried to do everything as early as we could,” she explains. “Our engagement was about nine months, and we had most of our vendors chosen within a few months. Both of us tried to make everything as simple as possible during the planning, since it can get pretty stressful.” At the time, Allen lived in Virginia, and Ashley lived in Tennessee, so the long distance from the location was probably the hardest part.

The couple enlisted the services of wedding planner Bridget Powell with Ode to Joy Events for assistance with details and scheduling for the day of the big event. “We knew we wanted good food and a fun, live band, so most of our initial energy went into that,” says Ashley. The cakes were made locally by a family friend, and the couple arranged the flowers themselves using bouqs.com.

Ashley learned that “planning stress isn’t worth it. Neither are small details. Keep it simple and focus on the getting married part and the party part.” Ashley had bridal portraits taken at the King George Inn, a beautifully restored 1900s home in Roanoke. The couple took their wedding pictures in the field in front of the vineyard. “There was plenty of room to stretch out and get some fun photos with the wedding party,” says Ashley.

Everyone taking pictures was encouraged to share them on Twitter and WedPics using their hashtag. “We have a lot of fun photos from friends and family throughout the day that complement our nicer, professional photos,” says Ashley. In hindsight, they wish they had employed a videographer. “We love our photographs, but it would be cool if we could relive the day through video.”

The couple tied family keepsakes into the day, starting with Allen’s wedding band which was his grandfather’s. Ashley wore a necklace of her mother’s and pins from her grandmothers on her bouquet. They decorated using antique oil lamps that Ashley’s dad collects, and most all of the decorations and special touches were family keepsakes or baubles.
Sometimes things that go wrong make the most interesting memories. Ashley recalls that their wedding cake almost fell: “As it was being moved to its table, one of the people carrying it must have stepped into a hole in the grass and fell to their knees. Thankfully, the cake didn’t fall all the way, but there was a quirky tilt to it from then on.”

The couple ordered and planned to use giant sparklers for the going away ritual, but just a few days before the wedding realized they could not use them at the venue. “Allen came through in a pinch and ordered a ton of glow sticks, which turned out to be really fun and made some great pictures,” says Ashley.

Ultimately, Ashley reflects: “The night goes by so fast, and it’s easy to forget the day, so be present.”

Jennifer Poff Cooper is an NRV native and frequent contributor to New River Valley Magazine.