The house of the new nuptials
Oct 31, 2018 08:46AM
● By J. Chambless
Holly Rollins of Vows at the Mitchell House. (Photo by Richard L. Gaw)
Richard L. Gaw
there are skinny shreds of overlap in their respective fields, Debbie
Reynolds, Willie Mays, Charles Barkley, Joan Fontaine, Pat Robertson
and Billie Holliday have little, if anything, in common. Ask anyone
who has any knowledge of the history of Elkton, however, and you are
liable to hear differently.
All of them were married at The Little Wedding Chapel on Main Street, in a town that was once known as “The Marriage Capitol of the East.”
From nearly the beginning of the 20th Century to just before World War II, Elkton was the hotbed of the quickie nuptial, where over 100,000 tied the knot in ceremonies, enticed by Maryland's low-key marriage laws that waived the typical 48-hour waiting period for marriage licenses that had been instituted in nearby Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware.
During its marriage ceremony heyday, Elkton boasted fifteen wedding chapels on Main Street in order to accommodate the couples who wanted to tie the knot; in fact, some who were granted the license to officiate weddings would offer their services as young couples came off the bus at nearby stations.
In June of 1913, the city issued 60 wedding licenses, compared to the year before, when Elkton had only issued 12. Word quickly spread, and by the Great Depression, business was booming. In 1936, Elkton issued nearly 12,000 marriage licenses, and conducted an average of 32 weddings a day.
By 1938, state officials passed a 48-hour mandatory waiting period for marriage licenses, and while Elkton was still averaging about 6,000 weddings a year in the 1970s, the magic of nuptial spontaneity seemed to vanish, and when the historic Little Wedding Chapel closed in 2017, some locals thought the magic was gone for good.
It's not. In fact, the future of wedding ceremonies in Elkton has been given a new life, and a new home.
Holly Rollins and her husband, Attorney Ellis Rollins III, have converted a portion of the historic Mitchell House on Main Street to Vows at the Mitchell House, and since it opened in the April, it has already served as a wedding destination for 20 couples and many other special events.
The house has been in the Rollins' family since the 1950s, when Ellis Rollins, Sr. purchased it for his family when he was the attorney general for Maryland. His son Ellis Jr. then inherited the house and converted it to his law office, who then handed it off to his son, Ellis III, who continues to run his practice in a portion of the home's first floor.
For the past few years, however, much of the remaining first floor space stood vacant, but the idea to launch a wedding business had already been launched several decades ago, when Holly and her sister Lisa considered buying the Little Wedding Chapel.
“Even though we never did make the purchase, the idea continued to percolate for both of us,” Holly said. “In the middle of last year, the chapel closed, so now there were no other chapels in Elkton. We were having our annual New Year's Eve lunch at the start of 2018, and we began to think about what could be done in the space,” Holly said. “Then Lisa told me, “Hey! I know what we could do!' and before we knew it, I was in business. It was that simple.”
With plenty of room for a small wedding and corresponding reception, Vows at the Mitchell House can accommodate up to 40 guests, as part of complete, one-stop shop of service: Holly is a wedding officiant and conducts wedding ceremonies; Sweet Spice Bake Shop in North East, owned by Rollins’ daughter Casey Warrington and Lisa Lonabaugh, provide catering and sweets for each event; and Elkton Florist in Elkton and The Twisted Vine in North East will fulfill all floral requests.
Even though it's called Vows at the Mitchell House, it's a welcome spot for other special occasions, as well. Since its opening, Rollins has hosted baby showers, bridal showers, anniversary parties, vow renewals, cocktail parties and themed tea parties.
A special highlight that's dotted the event calendar was a Mother's Day tea, that featured an appearance by a Queen Elizabeth impersonator and two of her subjects. She's due for a return visit for a Charles Dickens' holiday tea on December 8, and on Oct. 26, the Mitchell House hosted “Edgar Allen Poe - The Master of Macabre, an Intimate Dinner Party,” that featured readings from “The Raven” by local actor Curtis King.
“I had not thought of those other opportunities when we started, but after a local newspaper ran an article about the business, someone asked me if we hosted tea parties,” Holly said. “I said, 'We sure do!' Then someone asked me, 'Can we have our baby shower there?' I told her, 'We sure can!'”
Whatever the occasion, those looking to celebrate in an intimate space would be hard-pressed to find a spot with more character and history. The Mitchell House, located at 131 E. Main St., built by Dr. Abraham Mitchell, a physician from Lancaster County, in the 1760s, and was used as a hospital during the American Revolution. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. The two-and-a-half story landmark showcases colonial craftsmanship with its hardwood floors and working fireplaces.
“We've had sit-down dinners, DJs and dancing, but even if one wishes to be here with a fiancee, parents and children, it's a beautiful place for any special occasion,” Holly said. “This all came out of a need and an appreciation for Elkton's history. A lot of people have come to Elkton to get married, because they knew that Grandma and Grandpa got married here, and they wanted to carry on that family tradition.
“Vows at the Mitchell House has really been an outgrowth of that history and those traditions, in a very warm and intimate environment.”
Vows at the Mitchell House is located at 131 E. Main Street, in Elkton. To learn more and to make a reservation for your event, visit www.vowsatthemitchellhouse.com.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.