Ce­cil Bank buys chapel at auc­tion

Cecil Whig - - FRONT PAGE - By BRI­ANNA SHEA

bshea@ce­cil­whig.com

— As peo­ple waited for the auc­tion of the last chapel in town to be­gin, there were somber faces in the crowd Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

“It’s aw­ful, it’s a shame,” said Anna Smith, grand­daugh­ter of the His­toric Lit­tle Wed­ding Chapel’s Rev. Frank Smith. “I don’t re­ally want to be stand­ing here.”

Af­ter be­ing put on the auc­tion block, how­ever, the his­toric chapel’s cur-

ELKTON

rent state will likely change very lit­tle for the time be­ing. Ce­cil Bank, the owner of the prop­erty’s mort­gage, was the only bid­der on the prop­erty and bought it for $60,000. There were no qual­i­fied bids, said Daniel Staeven, sub­sti­tute trus­tee for the bank. In or­der to be qual­i­fied, a bid­der must put down a $10,000 de­posit, and no one did. Now, the chapel will con­tinue in its fore­clo­sure process and will likely be put up for sale by the bank in the com­ing months.

Elkton was once promi- nently known as the “Mar­riage Cap­i­tal of the East,” due to Maryland’s com­par­a­tively lax mar­riage li­cense rules and the town’s bor­der lo­ca­tion. At the turn of the 20th cen­tury, many of Maryland’s bor­der states in­sti­tuted 48-hour waits for cou­ples to use a mar­riage li­cense, but the Free State car­ried on un­fet­tered.

At one time, more than 15 chapels per­formed thou­sands of wed­dings along

Elkton’s streets in a year. Even celebri­ties such as base­ball great Wil­lie Mays and ac­tress Joan Fon­taine came to Elkton to tie the knot. Af­ter Maryland in­sti­tuted its own 48-hour wait in 1938, how­ever, the at­trac­tion of Elkton waned, although mar­riages here were still pop­u­lar for years. Elkton’s legacy as a bas­tion for elop­ers car­ried well into the later half of the 20th cen­tury, even fea­tured in dia­logue in the classic 1940 movie “The Philadel­phia Story,” star­ring Cary Grant and Katharine Hep­burn.

To­day, the His­toric Lit­tle Wed­ding Chapel, in op­er­a­tion since the 1920s un­der a long lineage of min­is­ters, is the last ves­tige of the mar­riage industry’s hey­days though. 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.

Smith re­ceived no­tice from Ce­cil Bank that it was no longer fund­ing his busi­ness eq­uity and wanted full pay­ment within 30 days last year. The bank it­self is un­der a di­rec­tive from the U.S. Fed­eral Re­serve Sys­tem to raise enough cap­i­tal 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 his busi­ness line of credit.

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 and in Fe­bru­ary, a judge ruled in fa­vor of the bank to pro­ceed with the fore­clo­sure on the build­ing.

While sev­eral mem­bers of his fam­ily at­tended Wed­nes­day’s auc­tion, Frank Smith said he could not bear to do so.

“I didn’t want to have any part of it,” he said. “It was just too de­press­ing.”

Frank said he feels “numb” be­cause he and Barbara, owned the chapel for 36 years and he had done every­thing he could to pre­vent the fore­clo­sure. He said he does not know if the bank will make him leave or al­low him to stay.

“I’m gonna let (the bank) come to me, be­cause it’s ba­si­cally in their ball­park,” he said.

Frank said there was talk of a few peo­ple want­ing to buy the prop­erty and al­low him to con­tinue with the chapel, but that did not hap­pen dur­ing the auc­tion. Although he is un­sure of what the bank wants to do, he does have an apart­ment lined up in Ne­wark, Del., he said.

Frank said he plans to semi- re­tire, but con­tinue to per­form wed­dings at the cou­ples’ choice of venue. Frank said he has wed­dings booked through July in the chapel. He said he is in the process of fix­ing up a recre­ational ve­hi­cle, which he bought in Jan­uary, to travel the United States.

Mean­while, others feel the loss of the chapel, as well.

“It’s just so up­set­ting be­cause I love the chapel, I’ve al­ways loved the chapel,” said Susie Smith, Frank’s step­daugh­ter.

She said her mom, Barbara, bought the chapel and worked hard to keep it go­ing. Susie said she took pic­tures of the cou­ples and did cler­i­cal work such as book­ing cou­ples for a time.

Be­fore the auc­tion, Anna Smith said she hoped that some­one would buy the prop­erty and keep it as it is. She has many mem­o­ries of the chapel, in­clud­ing talk­ing to brides about their dresses and watch­ing them walk down the stairs to the al­tar.

“I was scared some­one was go­ing to buy it and turn it into some­thing else other than the chapel,” she said af­ter the auc­tion.

Lisa Bush, in- house pho­tog­ra­pher for the chapel, said it is her “happy place,” be­cause she is able to cap­ture cou­ples’ mem­o­ries dur­ing their wed­ding.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY BRI­ANNA SHEA

Anna Smith, Rev. Frank’s grand­daugh­ter; Susie Smith, Frank’s step­daugh­ter; The Rev. Frank Smith and Lisa Bush, in-house pho­tog­ra­pher, stand out­side of the His­toric Lit­tle Wed­ding Chapel on Wed­nes­day af­ter the auc­tion.

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