End of an era?
Elkton’s last chapel slated for auction
— While the county seat was once prominently known as the “Marriage Capital of the East,” its most historic and last active wedding chapel is set to be put on the auction block Wednesday morning.
The auction, set to be-
gin at 10 a.m. on the steps of Cecil County Circuit Court and run by Hunter’s Auctioneer Services, may serve as the end of Elkton’s long history with the once-booming marriage industry. Cecil Bank will have an opening bid for the property located at 129 E. Main St., but the amount is unknown until the auction, said Carol Hunter, of the auction company.
The Historic Little Wedding Chapel has a long
history of ministers marrying people since the 1920s. People came from all over the region to Elkton due to Maryland’s comparatively lax marriage license rules and the town’s border location, making it a popular location to get married.
The Rev. Frank Smith, chapel owner and minister, said he has married almost 6,000 couples and the chapel has seen hundreds of thousands of couples married since it opened. Smith’s late-wife, Barbara, purchased the chapel in 1980, and he moved into the building after his wife’s death in 2013.
He said the chapel has a history with making appearances in TV shows and other news media outlets, such as the Cecil Whig, ABC’s “Good Morning America” and National Geographic.
Smith received notice from Cecil Bank that it was no longer funding his business equity and wanted full payment within 30 days of the notice last year. The bank itself is under a directive from the U.S. Federal Reserve System to raise capita to be deemed adequately capitalized. Smith said he was up to date with his first mortgage and equity line, but the bank requested $80,000 for the business line of credit.
“I had no way of paying the $80,000 business loan,” he said Monday.
The bank began the foreclosure process in August while Smith, along with his local lawyers who represented him pro bono, tried to fight the foreclosure process. They were ultimately unsuccessful, he said. In February, a judge ruled in favor of the bank to proceed with the foreclosure on the building.
To help raise funds to try to avert the loss of the historic business, Smith’s granddaughter, Anna Smith, set up a GoFundMe page to raise the money, but only about $700 was raised.
“It has a beautiful ambiance about it,” Smith said about the chapel. “You just you feel all the old weddings, it’s just a very comfortable place to have a wedding, especially a small one.”
Smith said he does not anticipate the property to sell at auction, but if it does, he does not expect it to stay a chapel. There is not much money in marrying people, he said. He said he marries about 150 couples a year at an average of $200 per wedding, earning a meager living, though it is one he loves. Smith said people are not getting married as often as people did in the past.
He did try to find another owner to continue to the chapel’s tradition, but was unsuccessful due to the amount of money made at each wedding. Smith said he will stay in the building as long as he can.
“I’m assuming it’s not going to sell, the bank will be stuck with it and maybe they’ll allow me to stay just to have somebody in here and keep the tradition going,” he said.
Smith does not anticipate that another owner of the building would try to adapt the historic structure to another use, due to the cost to bring the building up to code for newer Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Other needed upgrades include a new heating and air conditioning system and a kitchen, and completing repairs, such as a new roof. He estimates that it may take up to $500,000 to renovate it for use as apartments or a commercial business.
“I don’t expect there to be another owner. You’d have to go from scratch, basically,” he said. “I expect it to just collapse, roof to fall in and the insides to go.”
Despite its crestfallen end, Smith said he has many fond memories of the chapel.
Smith said his favorite memory of the chapel is marrying people because it is a special time for cou- ples — one that he is able to take part in that. Getting married at the Historic Little Wedding Chapel has become a family tradition for many, as several generations from the same family have married there.
Smith said he has weddings booked through July, but nothing further out. He said he will continue to marry couples at home weddings.
Town leaders also expressed their sadness over the announcement of the chapel’s auction, but hope that bright days are still ahead.
Mary Jo Jablonksi, executive director of the Elkton Chamber and Alliance, said she hopes any new owner of the building will keep it a chapel.
“Keep it as a wedding chapel and the sign stays on the front of the building,” Jablonksi said.
Mayor Rob Alt said he is saddened by the turn of events, but hopes whoever buys the chapel will maintain it as one.
The Historic Little Wedding Chapel, located at 129 E. Main St., is going to be auctioned on Wednesday. It is the last remaining active chapel in Elkton, a leftover from the bygone era of the town’s reputation as the “Marriage Capital of the East.”
The Rev. Frank Smith stands at the alter in the Historic Little Wedding Chapel.