Fans of Regency romances will recognize Gretna Green, a small village in Scotland. English laws of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries required couples to be 21, give public notice and wait several weeks before marrying. Scotland did not require a waiting period and sixteen-year-olds could get married.
Eloping couples would flee to Scotland and get married as soon as possible. Gretna Green, on the main post road to Glasgow and just over the border from England, was the wedding destination of choice.
Crown Point, Indiana served as Chicago’s Gretna Green in the early twentieth century. Illinois law required couples wishing to marry to wait a week between declaring their intention to marry and actually getting married.
According to the Chicago Tribune, couples who just could not wait would hop in their Model T and drive the 50 miles to Crown Point, the county seat of Lake County, Indiana. Once there, they could wake up any of the Justices of the Peace who advertised on the main street and get married for five to twenty dollars depending on the time of night.
Moralists of the period tended to be against Crown Point weddings. Many couples eloping to Crown Point were drunk and likely had impure thoughts prior to their hasty marriage.
In 1936, Crown Point’s mayor banned weddings between the hours of 9pm and 8am, intoxicated couples, etc. Yet business became better than ever in 1937. That year Illinois began requiring medical certification that the bride and groom were free of venereal diseases in addition to the waiting period. Indiana was considerably less restrictive.
In 1941, the Indiana legislature approved blood test and county residency requirements and Crown Point ceased to be a major marriage destination.
In the 1980s, Indiana weddings again became popular. Illinois couples were required to get an AIDS test. Facts About Chicago shows that there were between 42,000 and 49,000 weddings in Cook County each year between 1980 and 1988. In 1989 the number dropped to 35,874. There were 39,395 weddings in 1990. After the testing requirement was repealed in 1991 the number jumped back up to 46,475.