I know what you mean! My Fiance and I live in a town with a population of about 100,000, and we both grew up in a city about an hour from here with a population of about 50,000. The town we live in now is a college town, so even though it is small it has some character, so we’re getting married here.
We are getting married at Minnetrista in Muncie, IN. It was originally owned by the Ball Brothers (they made the cute blue mason jars ) but now it’s a cultural center. We were able to get a space in the gardens area for a really reasonable price, and they let you use the entire gardens for the whole day for set up, pictures, etc (though the public is allowed in until about an hour before our ceremony).
It really was my dream wedding space, but my original dream was that the reception would be there too (far outside our budget when you add in all the rental prices). Once I got over that idea, it actually became very affordable.
Our reception will be held in a local arts center nearby. The building is typically used for arts classes and theatrical productions, but they have 2 event rooms that are regularly used for receptions, etc. Because it’s an older building (it was once a Masonic Temple) the event rooms are beautiful ballroom style rooms with a sort of Art Deco feel.
Try thinking outside the box. Parks, gardens, arts centers, even local colleges often have really interesting spaces available to rent out, you just might not realize that they’re there or that they will let you rent them. Our university’s Art Museum, for example, has a ballroom inside because it used to be the music/dance building. If you hadn’t been inside, you wouldn’t know it was there, but it would be perfect for a smaller reception.
Point is, you aren’t limited to event halls and VFW lodges. Search all around your city, and if you see a place you think would make an interesting venue, just call up and ask about it. You never know!