photographed by Stacy Smith Evans
This couple began their lives together in Harpers Ferry, where the bride’s ancestors settled in the 1700s.
Tt was love at first historic site for Sarah and John Lustrea. John, a history major with a focus on the Civil War, ended up with a summer job at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, where he met Sarah, a West Virginia University student who was also enjoying seasonal experience at Harpers Ferry. John says, “It was pretty serendipitous.”
The couple started a long-distance relationship as John returned to graduate school in South Carolina and Sarah headed back to school in Morgantown. Within a few months, John says, they had the “when you know, you know” moment. As they came back together the following summer, John planned to propose during a road trip to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. They stopped at the Route 11 Potato Chip Factory, picked up some bags of chips, and had a picnic before exploring Luray Caverns.
As they drove up Skyline Drive, John pulled off at an overlook. He asked a stranger to take a picture of them and got down on one knee and asked Sarah to marry him. “She was kind of surprised, so she stammered something and I couldn’t hear her so I asked her to repeat it,” John says. She did say yes, but then John froze. “I forgot I was supposed to put the ring on her finger,” he says. Sarah’s family in Martinsburg, aware of the day’s events because John had told them ahead of time, celebrated with the newly engaged couple at the end of the day.
The first few weeks of engagement were exciting but rushed, since John was heading back to South Carolina for his last year of graduate school. They quickly found a photographer to take their engagement pictures in Harpers Ferry and started researching venues. One day, Sarah and her mom visited a local coffee shop and ran into one of Sarah’s old math teachers, who happened to mention that her son was getting married at the Barn at York Hill, an 18th century barn and orchard in Shenandoah Junction. “I looked it up and said, ‘that’s the one,’” Sarah says. The couple toured it, loved it, and booked it.
With the reception venue clinched, the rest of the wedding’s rustic chic charm fell into place. Sarah complemented the barn’s interior with lights, candles, blue hydrangeas, and gold accents. “I wanted it to look more natural,” she says. “(The barn) is beautiful in its own way, and I didn’t want to take away from that.”
A Special Place
Sarah and John chose to have their wedding ceremony at the same church where Sarah’s ancestors settled in the 1700s. One of her great-grandfathers donated the land for Christ Reformed Church in Shepherdstown, and several of her family members who died in the Civil and Revolutionary wars are buried there. “It’s always had a special place in my family’s heart,” Sarah says. Even her grandparents were married there more than 70 years ago.
The couple waited to see each other until the ceremony. John tried not to gaze around the room too eagerly, so he slowly looked up as Sarah started her walk down the aisle – and then it hit him. “It slayed me, pretty much,” he says. “I was so overcome by how beautiful she looked and the beauty of the whole moment, how so many people traveled far and wide to be with us.” Their love filled the room as they recited traditional vows and exchanged rings. “I went to put his ring on, and his expression was just one of awe, disbelief, and excitement,” Sarah says.
After the ceremony, guests enjoyed light appetizers during cocktail hour while the couple took pictures. But they knew exactly when the party started—John and Sarah entered the reception to the tune of the Chicago Bulls’ starting lineup hype song. (John, the huge NBA fan, was also donning Bulls’ socks.) They finally relaxed together during their first dance to “All My Heart” by Sleeping with Sirens. “It was a weirdly private moment,” John says. “People were watching us, but we were locked in on each other.”
The Barn at York Hill allowed for guests to congregate in various areas and wander around the venue. When they weren’t eating their dinner of steak and margarita chicken, guests could hang out by the newly built bar, walk outside of the tent to outdoor tables, or make s’mores around the bonfire that burned all evening. Sarah and John’s wedding planner found them a photo booth that everyone enjoyed, and the couple got to keep everyone’s pictures afterward. And of course, there was the dance floor. John, a self-proclaimed metal music junkie, was excited that the family-friend DJ played a metal song and was met by a mini mosh pit from some friends.
Guests grabbed a bag of Route 11 potato chips as party favors that brought Sarah and John back to the day of their proposal. The couple also departed with a sparkler send-off. “A lot of my guests had never been to the East Coast or to West Virginia,” says John, whose family and friends came in from his hometown outside of Chicago. “We wanted people to see how wild and wonderful West Virginia is,” Sarah says. “People were amazed at how beautiful it was.”