Barn Charm: Oconto's Rustic Event Venue

May 16, 2022

Barn Charm: Oconto’s Rustic Event Venue

A diamond in the rough has found new life on the shores of the Oconto River. Husband and wife Riley Sowle and Anita Jensen revitalized a quintessential white barn into a casual, rustic venue for weddings and other private gatherings.

Oconto Riviera combines the charm of rural life with the beauty of the riverside to create an ideal atmosphere for celebrations. The white barn is conveniently located just off Highway 41 on 300 feet of Oconto River shoreline. The barn’s rustic charm is the unique backdrop for memorable events like weddings, anniversaries, celebrations of life, and family reunions.

Riley and Anita purchased the barn at 1240 McDonald St., Oconto, in March 2020. After extending the building to create living quarters for their family, the couple transformed the barn into an outdoor event venue.

“It has been so much fun,” Anita said. “I’m a farm kid, and where they saw an old barn, I saw so many possibilities. It’s been a labor of love to turn the barn into a welcoming and beautiful space for celebrations.”

The first barn on the property, a traditional red cattle barn, burned down about 50 years ago. It was replaced by the white barn in the 1970s. The barn previously housed beef cattle and veal calves – and the 130 veal pens were one of the first things to go during renovations. The cement blocks covering the windows were next. With these two renovation projects completed, the couple created a bright, airy, and roomy space for guests to mingle.

The wedding cake and catering are set up inside the lower part of the barn, while tables and chairs for guests are set up outdoors in the “barnyard,” located on the Oconto River. A grand, three-pit fire table sits in the spot where a feeding trough once stood. An enchanting Koi fish pond replaces a runoff catch basin. Flowers are everywhere!

After removing 20 wagonloads of hay from the second-story hay loft, the family laid herringbone wood flooring. The flooring adds a touch of elegance to the private suite where bridal parties get ready for their big day.

With the spacious barn and a large white tent, Oconto Riviera provides guests with lots of open space; the venue accommodates 250 guests and 100+ parked cars. Couples can get married by the river and roam the 3-acre property with their bridal party for photos while their guests fish or relax by the riverside.

In addition to using the barn as an outdoor event venue, Anita and Riley operate two other businesses inside the barn. Anita designs western wear costumes and apparel for bodybuilders. Riley offers chiropractor services on Thursdays. As business owners themselves, Anita and Riley are passionate about supporting other businesses in the community. Weddings and private events at Riviera Oconto bring new opportunities for local caterers, photographers, florists, hairstylists, and other vendors.

Oconto Riviera hosted its first wedding in 2021, the coffee shop owner said his sales doubled on that day. Wedding guests booked 15 hotel rooms, and the bride and groom contracted with a local caterer, photographer and DJ. It’s a sign of the potential economic impact the venue will bring to the community. Anita said that one couple is turning their wedding day into a weekend-long celebration this summer, so their guests reserved 24 campsites and 10 hotel rooms.
Oconto may not be the first place that comes to mind for a destination wedding, but Anita and Riley like the idea of bringing people to Oconto to experience its visitor features.

“Riley and I have a saying, ‘Come for the wedding but stay for the view,’” Anita said.

In the future, the couple would like to host public events like farmers markets, in addition to private events.

“Riley grew up in Oconto, and we love the community. We’re excited to bring in people from all over, because that’s what Oconto can thrive off of. When people come here for a wedding or an event, they’ll remember the barn venue and the city of Oconto, too,” Anita said.

To check availability or to schedule an outdoor event at Oconto Riviera, visit ocontoriviera.com.