Executive Mansion Director Sarah Huggins Scarbrough watches as crews… (JOE MAHONEY/THE RICHMOND…)
RICHMOND — Virginia’s historic governor’s mansion has survived nearly two centuries, 54 governors and a Civil War. Now, it’s time for a wedding.
On Saturday, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell will walk his daughter down the aisle at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church before Virginia’s first family opens the doors to the mansion for a late-afternoon reception.
About 200 guests will wander the estate’s gardens and ornate rooms filled with art and artifacts dating to a bygone era as they celebrate the marriage of Cailin McDonnell and Chris Young. The couple met in college and have dated for six years.
First lady Maureen McDonnell said her daughter fell in love with the house the moment the family walked through it shortly after McDonnell (R) was elected governor in November 2009.
“Ever since they are born, for every little girl, they start dreaming about their wedding day,’’ said McDonnell, her voice breaking. “We just thought this would be an amazing place. It’s always been a dream to live in a place of history.”
The butter-yellow Federal-style mansion is touted as the longest continually occupied governor’s residence in the nation. It has been home to three future U.S. presidents, visited by the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Queen Elizabeth II and Barack Obama — and featured on “American Idol.”
Records from the governor’s office indicate that only four daughters of governors have been married or held wedding receptions at the mansion, built in 1813. The last was the youngest of L. Douglas Wilder.
Loren Deane Wilder married Edward Joseph James 18 years ago in a white-tie wedding at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and then rode in a horse-drawn carriage across the street for a reception attended by 450 guests.
“It just seemed like the perfect place,’’ said Loren James, who lives with her husband and two sons in Northern Virginia. “How many people can say they have done that?”
“It was a fairy tale,’’ said her father, the nation’s first elected black governor. “I was happy I was able to do that for her.”
McDonnell may have learned a thing or two from former governor John N. Dalton (R), who was criticized for trying to charge taxpayers for a $2,500 yellow-and-white tent for his daughter’s wedding. McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said the family is picking up the tab for all wedding costs.
Over the years, a handful of governors’ relatives have used the mansion for weddings. The first was at the turn of the century and the most recent was the niece of Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) in December 2005.
“It’s your house,’’ said Roxane Gilmore, wife of former governor James S. Gilmore (R), whose book about the mansion is set to be released in November. “You have graduation parties. Your children get married. You do the things you normally do. You just do it down there. You can’t put your lives on hold.”
The Gilmores — who raised two sons in the mansion — moved out for six months so the house could undergo a $7 million renovation that both restored its historic accuracy and made it more modern.
The house — once in the center of the capital of the Confederacy — has served as a gathering place for dignitaries of all sorts: queens, prime ministers, ambassadors, presidents and state lawmakers. It is estimated that at least 20,000 tourists visit annually and that 100 receptions, breakfasts, recitals and other events take place there each year. It still features a table from Patrick Henry and a china cabinet from Virginia’s 24th governor, William Giles, who began serving in 1827.
Cailin McDonnell, 26, who works at the Henrico County Victim Witness Office, and Young, 27, an engineer, will marry at St. Patrick’s before they retreat to the mansion for the reception. Guests will include House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and his wife, Diana, chairman of the Virginia Retirement System board, who are former neighbors and longtime friends of the McDonnells.
Cailin is the first of the McDonnells’ five children to get married. Her sisters, Jeanine and Rachel, will serve as two of six bridesmaids. Her twin brothers, Sean and Bobby, who attend the University of Virginia, will be two of six groomsmen.
McDonnell, a staunch supporter of Virginia wines, will serve wine only from the Old Dominion, including the Barboursville and Chatham vineyards.
The menu will include fresh poached jumbo Virginia shrimp, bruschetta made with Virginia tomatoes, stuffed free-range chicken breast with Virginia tomato pan sauce, sesame crusted chicken satay, marinated and grilled London broil served with fresh horseradish, as well as locally grown fruit, a salad bar, assorted cheeses and a smashed-potato bar.
The bride will wear a white strapless satin A-line Maggie Sottero dress with lace embellishments from Maya Couture Bridal Salon in Virginia Beach.
“She knows herself very well,’’ owner Maya Warburton said of the bride. “It’s classic, yet romantic and very soft.”
Staff researcher Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.