Just in times for Valentine’s Day, the Historical Society of Cecil County explored a captivating period in Elkton’s history during a weekend talk by Mike Dixon. While the nation faced the bleak days of the Great Depression, business thrived in Elkton for the “honeymoon express” arrived many times each day and Elkton became the elopement capital of the east.
Its reputation as a place to go for quick marriages got started about 1913 and for several decades the place hummed because of the marriage industry. From just over 100 services a year at the turn of the 1900s, the county seat was soon working overtime. The parsons were doing “one marriage every 15 minutes,” which wasn’t “bad for a town of something like 3,000 people,” the News American reported in 1920 . The ministers were cranking out some 12,000 newlyweds a year by the mid-1930s as the town in the northeatern corner of Maryland became America’s Gretna Green.
To accommodate the heavy trade “marrying parsons set up parlors along the main streets and competition for brides and grooms was intense during the mills heyday. Each time a train, the Honeymoon Express, arrived at the depot, the cabbies greeted arriving couples. Not much was required to get hitched in Elkton in those days. Twelve minutes and a few dollars were all you needed, the Baltimore newspaper reported. Although even the 12 minutes wasn’t altogether neccessary, but the dollars were the reporter observed. Today the Little Wedding Chapel on Main Street is Elkton’s sole remaining chapel, but a number of prospective brides and grooms still flock here each week.
It was a fast paced talk that explored how and why the wedding racket developed in an unassuming Maryland town. It included many funny stories about the marrying syndicate and its leaders, the taxi cab drivers. We also looked at how the marrying preachers caused an international incident involving the Iranian government.