“We went on a beach trip with a group right after starting school at the University of Virginia,” recalls Brooks Horton, the membership manager at the healthcare non-profit, Mercy Care, of the first time she met now husband, attorney Sam Lyddan. “The minute I laid eyes on him, I remember immediately thinking, ‘This is going to be trouble.’ ” After that, Sam asked Brooks to a fraternity date function later that semester; they didn’t go on a true date until second year—but then, the rest is history.
The two saw each other for about six years before getting engaged. “We even did about a year and a half of long distance right after college when I was living in New York working for the Today Show, and Sam was in New Orleans working at a law firm,” explains Brooks of their courtship. Then, in February of 2014, Sam surprised Brooks with a proposal. “We were living in New Orleans at the time, and he took me to dinner at my favorite restaurant there—a little French spot, Lilette—for what I thought was just a date night,” says Brooks. “We had an amazing dinner, and there was no sign of anything out of the ordinary. After dinner, we were heading home, and he suggested we stopped by our friend’s house for a drink. When we arrived, there were candles set up in the yard, and Sam proposed outside the house with a ring that he custom designed with diamonds from pieces of my grandmother and his great aunt’s jewelry. We then went in to find a party of all our closest in and out of town friends. It was magical!”
When it came time to pick a venue, Brooks immediately thought of Cashiers, NC, a place where she grew up spending summers and holidays. “My family recently built a house there in a development called Lonesome Valley, and it is absolutely stunning in the fall,” says Brooks. “Sam is from Richmond, and I am from Atlanta, so we wanted to get married somewhere that was special to both of us. We’ve spent lots of time in Cashiers and loved the idea of getting married in a location we knew we would come back to together to be with family time and time again.” Lonesome Valley and the Cashiers mountains lend themselves to a rustic but elegant aesthetic, and that combined with crisp fall weather made it the perfect setting for a cozy mountain wedding.
Brooks wanted a wedding dress that was fitting with the setting and season of her event and liked the idea of a vintage looking gown, but didn’t have one in good shape in her family. “I ended up choosing one of the first dresses I tried on, a fit and flare Liancarlo gown,” she says. “I loved that it had lace elements, but the tulle on the bottom added an unexpected touch—and the Leontine lace was just gorgeous,” she says. “I also had straps and a ribbon sash added. I had a headpiece made with the extra lace removed from the dress too.” She ultimately removed several layers of tulle at the bottom to give the dress a softer look. “After all of the alterations, I felt like the dress was custom made for me!”Given the brisk conditions common in the evenings in Cashiers, it was important that a topper of some kind be part of Brooks’ wedding day look. “I am lucky enough to have a fabulous vintage white fox fur stole that belonged to my amazingly fashionable, late grandmother, Gran T, that was a perfect complement to the dress,” says Brooks. “There was a sudden cold snap right before the wedding, and I was incredibly glad to have it!”
She wore the veil her sister wore at her wedding, and then for jewelry, she kept it very classic and simple. “My earrings were my something borrowed—pearl and diamonds from my sister-in-law that she wore at her wedding. I also wore a gold and diamond tennis bracelet that was a gift from Sam and used to belong to his great aunt.”
For beauty, she wanted a fresh, clean look. “Sam actually made a point of asking me not to wear a bold, red lip for the wedding, so I did a relatively neutral lip!” She wore her hair swept back off her face—“There’s something about having hair up that is so bridal to me!” Her bridesmaids were in charcoal gray gowns and carried bouquets that featured colorful, fall flowers—many of which were grown on their florist’s personal farm in North Georgia. “And because of the cold weather, we overnighted ivory shawls in at the last minute that the girls ended up wearing throughout the wedding,” Brooks notes.The ceremony was overlooking the sweeping valley that gives Lonesome Valley its name. “We kept the wedding outside, despite the cold, and the view was absolutely spectacular,” says Brooks. “My mother is an ordained minister, so she officiated our vows which was an incredibly special moment for us. We had a string quartet playing and an amazing wedding party of family and friends, and two precious ring bearers and a flower girl.”Afterwards, guests made their way over to Canyon Kitchen, a nearby restaurant that’s connected to Lonesome Valley and has a gorgeous barn-like setting. A tent was also attached outside. The evening started with a cocktail hour and passed hors d’oeuvres (think: tomato soup and grilled cheese shooters, a charcuterie board, lobster corn dogs, barbequed lamp chops, and an oyster station with Island Creek oysters flown in from Duxbury, Massachusetts, where Brooks’ parents currently live) outside overlooking the valley. The newlyweds then made their entrance and had their first dance to Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” followed by the father-daughter dance. After that, everyone sat down to a dinner of North Carolina Sunburst trout, Zinfandel braised beef short ribs with brussels sprouts and Hoppin’ John rice, prepared by James Beard nominee John Fleer, inside the tent and then danced non-stop to music by the Atlanta-based band, Anita.Post-dinner, spiked hot apple cider and s’mores were served around the fire place to toast the season. And as a late night snack, they had “grillswith,” a signature late night dish from Charlottesville favorite, the White Spot. “They are basically grilled Krispy Kreme doughnuts with vanilla ice cream,” explains Brooks. “Our chef bought the donuts from Krispy Kreme on Saturday—we insisted that they could not be anything else!” Sam is a huge Washington Redskins fan, so his groom’s cake featured the Redskins logo. “And then, we had been living in New Orleans for five years at the time of our wedding, so as a surprise, my dad arranged for authentic New Orleans Mardi Gras beads and crowns—straight from they bayou—to be brought out on the dance floor at the end of the night,” says Brooks. “It was a fantastic party!”
At the end of the evening, Brooks’ dad had one more surprise up his sleeve. “I am one of three girls, and my dad has made it his goal at all three weddings to plan a unique getaway for each of us,” she says. “After we left the reception through a tunnel of sparklers, we were surprised by a UVA-decorated horse drawn wagon that then whisked us away. It was so much fun!”