For longer than anyone alive remembers, Valentine’s Day in Elkton has been particularly hectic down on Main Street as couples arrive here for quick marriages. Still, while cupid’s holiday is an unsually busy one, there was once a hum and bustle to the matrimonial business in the old town, day in and day out, when the wedding industry thrived in Cecil County.
It started just before World War I when northern states passed more restrictive marriage laws requiring waits of two or three days after a license was issued. Once Delaware joined the growing trend in 1913 it made Elkton, the northeastern most county in Maryland, the spot for a quick ceremony. And since it was the closest to the urban centers of the northeast, the “honeymoon express” (passenger trains) arrived in town many times each day, bringing young, eager couples in a hurry to get married without delay.
The local cabbies anxiously scanned the coaches, eyeing the arriving crowd for potential brides and grooms. Wanting to grab the trade before the competition did, the jitney drivers offered to expedite the couple through the licensing process at the Clerk of the Court’s Office and help with all the arrangements. But these veteran navigators of Elkton streets, roads, alleys, and the halls of local government wanted to make sure the wedding went off without a hitch as the taxi company’s marrying parson performed the hasty ceremony.
In its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s it was the elopement capital of the East Coast as cupid’s couples swamped the marriage parlors. 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, as the once quiet town a few miles from Pennsylvania and Delaware became America’s Gretna Green. In 1936, the county cranked out 11,791 marriage licenses in an area where about 250 ceremonies would have otherwise been anticipated.
To accommodate the heavy trade the taxi operators set up marrying parsons along the main streets since competition for brides and grooms was intense during the mills heyday.
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 necessary, but the dollars were the reporter observed.
The State of Maryland imposed a 48-hour waiting period in 1938. But people still continue to come here to be married, though the volume is far less. Today the Little Wedding Chapel on Main Street is Elkton’s sole remaining chapel.