The timber frame barn on Murchison Farm overlooks rolling hills, pastures and ponds. It has been the gathering place for owner Robin Murchison-Cockerham ‘81 and her family for years.
Located in pastoral Alamance County, the farm holds the beloved memories of the Cockerham's. After her niece Lindley Sytz Rickert’s engagement in 2019, Murchison-Cockerham and her family decided to turn Sytz Rickert’s wish of being married on the farm into a reality, marking the start of the family's journey to transform the farm into the wedding venue it is today: Hayfield at Murchison Farm.
Murchison Farm has been in the Cockerham family since 1876. Murchison-Cockerham’s great grandfather owned dairy cows and sheep on the property, which his son, William Murchison eventually turned into a dairy farm. Murchison-Cockerham’s mother Nancy Murchison kept the farm alive for four years after her husband passed away. After years of upkeep, the family sold all the dairy cows and Murchison-Cockerham, her sister Janet Sytz, brother-in-law Ron Sytz and husband Kim Cockerham converted Murchison Farm into a beef operation.
The farm has served many purposes to the Cockerham family, being both a source of income and a place of gathering. For years, the Cockerhams have utilized this land for their family and as a space to share with their friends.
“My sister, brother, and I grew up on this dairy farm,” Murchison-Cockerham said. “Our children had always gone here to play, and it was just a fun place for all of us together.”
Turning Murchison Farm into a wedding venue was never on the agenda, however, in 2019 when Sytz Rickert got engaged, plans changed.
Sytz Rickert met her now-husband at her birthday party on Murchison Farm. When deciding to get married, Sytz Rickert knew the farm would be the perfect place, prompting the construction of the Hayfield wedding venue and the introduction of a new chapter for Murchison farms.
“Hayfield was really the idea of my sister and brother-in-law,” Murchison-Cockerham said. “We all own this farm together, so when they had the idea, we said, ‘OK. Let’s do this.’”
Hayfield at Murchison Farms is a product of strong family ties as well as long standing Elon University relationships. Murchison-Cockerham ‘81, her husband Kim Cockerham ‘79 and friend Jimmy Riddle ‘80 are all Elon alumni who contributed to Hayfield.
“Jimmy is our landscaper,” said Murchison-Cockerham. “He has been heavily involved with the venue from the day we started planning.”
Riddle attested to this close bond.
“Me and Robin have been best friends since college,” said Riddle.
Each change made to Murchison Farm has been steeped in love and care, according to Murchison-Cockerham. While the timber frame barn is newly furnished, the authenticity of Murchison remains. Black Angus cows are seen roaming alongside the golden venue, their presence a testament to the Murchison-family value of keeping the spirit of the land alive.
“Hayfield sits on a null in one of our pastures that were actually a hayfield pasture,” Murchison-Cockerham said. “The cows used to graze up there, and we would cut the grass for hay. We decided this is where Hayfield should sit as it had the furthest and prettiest views of our farm.”
Hayfield is a labor of love, with the whole Cockerham family dedicating time to tend to the land.
“Our whole family has really been involved in this,” Murchison-Cockerham said. “Once we started the idea, our kids have come home, and they’re willing to help. We’ve all worked to clean up our farm, and we’ve all put in a lot of manual labor as well as input on the aesthetics and components of the barn.”
Ron Sytz and Logan Parker of Heirloom Builders, Inc. were in charge of the architectural design of Hayfield. The duo hoped to complete the venue by October 2020, Sytz Rickert’s wedding date. The coronavirus pandemic delayed the construction of the venue and the wedding.
The coronavirus pandemic presented unexpected obstacles to the budding business. In an industry centered around public gatherings, limited gathering capacities pose a new challenge. However, Murchison-Cockerham believes the outdoor infrastructure of Hayfield serves as an advantage.
“We are following all the COVID guidelines and provide masks to our guests,” Murchison-Cockerham said. “Spatially, we can accommodate up to 300 people and have a big terrace on the outside and the wings on the side that you can be outside. You can open up pretty much the whole barn.”
So far, Hayfield has hosted two weddings and has several more planned. On January 30, it hosted its first wedding for a COVID-19 nurse, and on March 27, Sytz Rickert was finally able to have her wedding at the new Hayfield venue.
Murchison-Cockerham hopes Hayfield at Murchison Farms will grow into a place that is just as special to others as it is to her and her family.
“We’re hoping that we’re going to be able to book a lot of weddings,” Murchison-Cockerham said. “Our family loves this farm, and there is nothing more that we want to do than share the love of the land with the people.”