King Cole Farm Transforms From Farm to Event Venue in Dover

Family-owned King Cole Farm undergoes a stunning transformation from corn and soybean operation to breathtaking wedding venue.

Even on an overcast day in December, King Cole Farm looks like a picture from a storybook. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the panorama of sprawling fields, swaying cornstalks and a palatial pole barn as anything but a wedding venue. But long before Jim and Annemarie Dickerson assumed ownership of the family farm, King Cole carved its niche as a fully operational corn and soybean farm in Kent County. The transition to its current role as a beloved wedding venue is woven with the intricate threads of family history.

The tale begins in 1960, the year Harry Draper and Audrey Owens Draper acquired the lush 500-acre expanse of King Cole Farm. Their intent was to cultivate lima beans and soybeans for their cannery, the prominent King Cole Canning Company in Milton, then one of the largest canneries in the United States. The Drapers, who also raised cattle on the farm, envisioned the homestead as more than an agricultural venture; they hoped to create a haven for bringing together families and friends. To ensure the enduring legacy of the farm within their lineage, the couple established a dynasty trust—a long-term fiduciary agreement designed to pass the estate from generation to generation.

When Audrey and Harry both passed away in the mid-1970s, Sally Draper Dickerson and Chester T. Dickerson Jr. inherited the land. In 1995, they relocated from Maryland to Dover and acquired an additional 100 acres adjacent to the farm, expanding the total acreage to 600. Chester, formerly a scientist at the Monsanto Company (best known for producing the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup), decided to retire in 2003. This marked the beginning of construction on the couple’s dream home (which stands today as the venue’s fully retrofitted Main House).

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King Cole Farm
By Christopher Hermance Photography

But Chester’s work did not stop there. When poor drainage posed ponding and water-retention challenges, he regraded all the fields and built drainage ditches to benefit the crops. In 2006, he and Sally added a pole barn. For the next 12 years, the couple enjoyed the expansive acreage and their custom-built home, tucked neatly between Pickering Beach on the Delaware Bay and the Dover Air Force Base. By 2019, both Sally and Chester had passed, and the farm fell into the hands of its current owners, Jim and Annemarie Dickerson.

The Dickersons, however, also owned the well-established Francis Scott Key Family Resort in Ocean City, Maryland, an asset handed down from Annemarie’s father. For 30 years, they oversaw hotel operations, produced more than 100 wedding events and managed a full roster of employees. Although inheriting King Cole Farm and its incredible potential was a new and exciting prospect, it would undoubtedly involve a major change of pace.

“We went from 240 rooms and 120 co-workers to one co-worker, so that kind of made it easy,” Jim Dickerson says. “[King Cole Farm] was a lot less stress and kind of a no-brainer.” Through research, he and Annemarie reasoned that weddings were experiencing a monumental shift from those of the early 1990s. The popularity of church ceremonies was dwindling, and couples were searching for more comprehensive celebrations. The Dickersons saw an opportunity—host three-day affairs where festivities could span a weekend and operations could streamline to one location.

The spacious barn-turned-ballroom typically holds up to 250 guests
The spacious barn-turned-ballroom typically holds up to 250 guests. By Christopher Hermance Photography.

In October 2020, Jim and Annemarie began renovations by updating the farm’s Main House with fresh paint, modern furniture and new appliances, as well as an ADA–compliant bathroom and bedroom on the first floor. They chose a creamy ivory-and-white palette to complement a variety of tastes, as people often bring in their own décor. Dickerson says the intention was to provide a blank slate. The couple’s creative influence did, however, lend itself to the subtly themed bedrooms, like the Tommy Bahama room (complete with a palm tree) and the sunset room (aptly named for its view).

They also installed one of the property’s most unique features, a groomsmen’s lounge that hides behind a secret bookshelf door. On the wall are cheeky photos of celebrities raising their glasses to toast—there’s Mariah Carey, Morgan Freeman and Leonardo DiCaprio, to name a few. A fireplace, PlayStation and full bar make the bonus chamber a playful must for many bridal parties. There is also a provision bar, a room Dickerson has adorned with black-and-white snapshots of family members from as far back as the 1920s. A vintage record player and family heirloom hutch, which he filled with his father’s collection of duck decoys, add character and depth.

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Brides can enjoy a view of the gazebo from the master bedroom of the Main House.
Brides can enjoy a view of the gazebo from the master bedroom of the Main House. Photo by Jim Dickerson.

But as with most construction projects, the Dickersons’ endeavor hit a snag when their commercial license required the house to be outfitted with fire sprinklers. Additionally, they had to install a 125,000-gallon backup water tank for the fire suppression system that sits in the middle of the field. “Having to come back in and tear up the drywall—across the ceilings and up the walls of the first floor—just to put the sprinkler system in was a huge setback,” Dickerson admits. “But we got through that. We knew we needed to get it done.”

They finished just in time to host their first wedding, a quaint event for just 50 people in September 2022. They used the Main House for the fete, but with the pole barn still incomplete, the Dickersons decided to pause. “We knew we weren’t going to book any more weddings until the pole barn was done. We didn’t want to sell something that was just half of what we were originally planning to do,” Dickerson recalls. “So we froze all our reservations and didn’t allow any bookings until April 2023.”

This provided crucial time for other major undertakings, like installing a grass parking lot (one of Dickerson’s favorite details about the estate). A sedimentary sandwich of compacted soil, stone and sod created a compressed foundation that can withstand both precipitation and heavy weight. “You can drive a firetruck on it,” Dickerson reports, adding that the lot has space for up to 120 cars. “It’s environmentally cool. We’ve had events where we had downpours, and it just stays solid.”

Weddings at King Cole Farm are typically three-day affairs where festivities span a weekend. Many couples opt to host their rehearsal dinner at the farm’s Main House.
Weddings at King Cole Farm are typically three-day affairs where festivities span a weekend. Many couples opt to host their rehearsal dinner at the farm’s Main House. By Lizzy J Photography.

The pole barn, which is now complete, stands as the stunning centerpiece of the farm. It is the epitome of rustic chic, with sliding wooden barn doors, whiskey-barrel cocktail tables and a massive chandelier strung in the center of the open room. The spacious barn-turned-ballroom typically holds up to 250 guests, although it recently hosted 400 for Dover AFB Air Force Ball’s 76th anniversary. The versatile event space can be played up or down. Some weddings opt for a laid-back vibe, choosing a caterer like Mission BBQ, while others go for fine dining and grandeur.

“The place sells itself—it’s beautiful,” says Jim Dickerson, owner of King Cole Farm.
“The place sells itself—it’s beautiful,” says Jim Dickerson, owner of King Cole Farm.

Despite the glamorous facets of the venue, Dickerson says that service is paramount. “One of the biggest compliments that we get is about what Annemarie and I offer when our guests come here. We are with them every step of the way.” As for the future, the Dickersons eventually plan to take some time off, but only when they find suitable help to maintain their stellar standards. And the property will stay in the family tree indefinitely. Jim and Annemarie have three children, who will likely take the reins one day. Until then, the Dickersons are rolling up their sleeves and helping couples make lasting memories on the farm.

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For more information, visit kingcolefarm.com.

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