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Brule family turns remodeled homestead into wedding venue

The Clemmers are the second family to own the land since it was homesteaded in 1864. The farmhouse had been vacant and in rough shape when they bought it 37 years ago.

Jill Clemmer laughs as she tells a story in the kitchen
Jill Clemmer laughs as she tells a story in the kitchen of the Farmhouse at the Brule River Barn on May 9. The farmhouse, which sleeps 10, is decked out with antiques that Clemmer has collected throughout the years.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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BRULE — Jill Clemmer didn’t need to walk the property to know she wanted it.

She and her husband, Kirk, lived a mile away from the 80-acre homestead that always caught her eye on South County Highway H. Soon after hearing about its "for sale" sign, they "stopped at the Realtor and put down $100 earnest money," she recalled. "Then, we came to see it."

With that, a signed contract and a $20,000 loan, they purchased what has been theirs for nearly 40 years. “Luckily, we had $100 to our names at that time," Clemmer said.

The Summer Kitchen, left, is located just outside of the Farmhouse
The Summer Kitchen, left, is located just outside the Farmhouse on the grounds of the Brule River Barn on May 9.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The Clemmer land is now the site of the Brule River Barn event center, where folks can rent the grounds — complete with a barn, a four-bedroom farmhouse and a one-level cottage — for weddings, graduations and other celebrations.

It started as a labor of love.

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Jill Clemmer looks up at names of couples that have been married at the Brule River Barn
Jill Clemmer looks up at names of couples who have been married at the Brule River Barn on May 9. The signs are displayed at the mailbox for weddings, and when they are over, the signs are hung on the ceiling.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The couple renovated an old dairy barn for their daughter’s nuptials, a process that included a fair share of unpleasant obstacles. “It was full of rotten crap; the ceilings were falling in; the raccoons had been in here,” she said.

They updated the electricity, created a first-level dining area and a dance floor upstairs.

The shift was so momentous that after the ceremony, folks encouraged them to take their investment to the next level. Soon after, their daughter created a Facebook page, and the Brule River Barn event center was born. Six years later, Clemmer called this work “a nice passive income.”

Jill Clemmer points out a spot on the ceiling of the hayloft
Jill Clemmer points out a spot on the ceiling of the hayloft as she talks about the work that went into transforming the Brule River Barn.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The Clemmers are the second family to own the land since it was homesteaded in 1864. The farmhouse had been vacant for five years, ransacked and in rough shape when they purchased it 37 years ago, recalled Clemmer.

A table that sits eight is located just off of the kitchen in the Farmhouse
A table that sits eight is located just off the kitchen in the Farmhouse at the Brule River Barn. Another larger dining area is just through a doorway.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Fourteen dumpster loads later, the couple was able to remove doors and walls, siding and the chimney and start the process of building it back up. The family of five lived in what’s now the cottage as they renovated the main house.

The main floor, which used to consist of five smaller rooms, now houses two sitting rooms, a river-rock fireplace and an open concept kitchen. The primary bedroom is off of their former hot tub deck which is now a screened in porch.

Exposed square-log walls run throughout, and they added two fire pits, three outdoor porches and three ponds.

A writing desk is tucked in a corner
A writing desk is tucked in a corner on the main floor of the Farmhouse on the Brule River Barn.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The kitchen has seen the most work. Its current iteration features a wall of windows, tall cabinets and a large, white Dacor refrigerator. The stove is where the front door used to be, she said.

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Upstairs holds the bulk of the bedrooms and a washroom. The latter is covered in white tile and weathered heather gray wood with an added tub, so their granddaughter could use it during a visit.

052822.f.dnt.BruleRiverBarn10.jpg
A bedroom is ready for guests in the Farmhouse on the Brule River Barn grounds.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The bedrooms are flush with built-in storage, sliding barn doors, soft blue walls, a set of bunks and headboards made of wood from their old sauna.

Clemmer did all the deconstruction, and her husband, Kirk, a self-employed contractor, did the construction. “Good thing we were young and dumb,” she said.

Neil Clemmer was 10 when his parents purchased the land. It was a shift moving from a log home without a yard to the homestead with lots of space to run, he said.

A pond of goldfish greet visitors
A pond of goldfish greet visitors outside the Farmhouse at the Brule River Barn.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Jill Clemmer created and hung a photo collage in the primary bedroom showing pictures of the house in 1903, the day they bought it, as well as black and white photos of hers and Kirk’s parents and grandparents.

The homestead formerly served as a bean, strawberry and dairy farm, and its unique history has paved the way for its present.

Formerly a post office, bar and church, the summer kitchen is now equipped for catered food, rehearsal dinners and more. Lining its shelves and walls are rows of old, rusted egg beaters, sheep shearers, oil lamps and washboards.

Jill Clemmer moved this structure, log by log, down the road with her son. “There wasn’t one nail in it. Now it’s screwed and nailed within inches of its life. It’s never going anywhere now,” she recalled.

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The former Milk House still bears its name on a sign above the door, but it’s now used for the wedding party to visit and get dressed.

Nearby, the one-bedroom cottage boasts a retro theme distinct from the farmhouse with a red, 1960s-era dining set and a seafoam-styled bathroom.

The Cottage is a rustic one-bedroom structure
The Cottage is a rustic one-bedroom structure on the grounds of the Brule River Barn.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Clemmer found the stove for $50 in the newspaper 25 years ago. “It still works like a charm,” she said.

One challenge to this work is Airbnb stays aren’t for the faint of heart, Clemmer said. It takes time getting used to mostly strangers walking into a space you’ve called your own for so long. For now, it’s worth it.

When folks leave, she goes straight for the guestbook to read their feedback, relishing positive and kind words. “I come running to see what they wrote,” she said.

And based on this summer’s dance card — only a few available days pepper the schedule through July — the props should keep coming.

The Cottage features a retro vibe
The one-bedroom Cottage features a retro vibe on the grounds of the Brule River Barn.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

And, while she’s the face of the business, Jill Clemmer says this is very much a family affair.

Padlocks engraved with names and dates of couples hang from a vintage bedspring
Padlocks engraved with names and dates of couples hang from a vintage bedspring outside the Brule River Barn.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Her daughter-in-law manages the website. Her oldest son adds his legal hand, reviewing business insurance and contracts. Her son-in-law pitches in his accountancy expertise. Her younger son recently helped build wedding pews.

Also, part of her collective Mother’s Day gift is working on whatever large project she has planned, said Neil Clemmer.

While she sees herself winding down eventually, she’s one of a kind.

“My mom, she never sits still,” Neil Clemmer said. “She’s always got new ideas for cabinets and color schemes, carpeting and carpentry.

"It’s hard to find someone to replace her ability to make people’s weddings and stays feel special,” he said. “I’m very proud of her."

More information about the Brule River Barn, visit bruleriverbarn.com.

A wooden sign points visitors in the right direction
A wooden sign points visitors in the right direction as they enter the Brule River Barn grounds.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
The Clemmers pose for a family photos in their backyard.
The Clemmers, from left: Kirk, Jill, Jenna, Dawn, Neil, Emily, Kerry, Ben, Amanda, Sean and Juniper.
Contributed / Jill Clemmer
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Melinda Lavine is an award-winning, multidisciplinary journalist with 16 years professional experience. She joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2014, and today, she writes about the heartbeat of our community: the people.

Melinda grew up in central North Dakota, a first-generation American and the daughter of a military dad.

She earned bachelors degrees in English and Communications from the University of North Dakota in 2006, and started her career at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald that summer. She helped launch the Herald's features section, as the editor, before moving north to do the same at the DNT.

Contact her: 218-723-5346, mlavine@duluthnews.com.
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