New life for century-old marriage parlors in Jeffersonville

Updated: Feb. 14, 2018 at 6:59 PM EST
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The Clark County Museum is working on an exhibit on the parlors. (Source: Rachael Krause, WAVE...
The Clark County Museum is working on an exhibit on the parlors. (Source: Rachael Krause, WAVE 3 News)
(Source: Rachael Krause, WAVE 3 News)
(Source: Rachael Krause, WAVE 3 News)

JEFFERSONVILLE, IN (WAVE) - Inside the Clark County Museum, pieces of local history sit, waiting for someone to spot them like a framed piece of paper from 1897.

"So this is one of the certificates that you got," Jeanne Burke with the Clark County Museum said. "You probably paid a little bit more to get the one with the gold seal on it."

The Clark County marriage license she picked up and showed WAVE 3 News is one of thousands issued to couples tying the knot at Jeffersonville marriage parlors, a roaring economic engine for the community between 1870 and 1910.

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"It was a lucrative business," Burke said. "It was romantic. It's the idea of running away and not having to pay for a big wedding."

Burke said the marriage business began with Ephraim Keigwin around 1875 when he began offering low-cost marriages to couples looking to elope, or trying to avoid paying hundreds for a Kentucky marriage bond. Others saw his success and opened their own shops nearby, capitalizing on travelers coming over the bridge or on the ferry to wed.

"Indiana didn't have a bond but Kentucky did," Burke said. "And that was to protect the woman from being left at the altar."

The hundreds of dollars Kentucky residents would pay was often too expensive for couples while others simply wanted to marry quickly before others could object to the union, according to Burke. These quick, cheap weddings in Jeffersonville became a big draw around the region.

"By the time he retired in the 1890s, he had married 10,000 couples, many of whom were from Kentucky," Burke said.

The large amount of couples married at the Jeffersonville marriage parlors include members of Burke's family.

"My mothers in law; the groom came from Louisville and her mother in law came from Madison, Indiana. She could have come down here on a riverboat and gotten married in Jeffersonville and they did," she said.

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It's been more than 100 years since the marriage parlors were in fashion in Jeffersonville but the Clark County Museum is working to bring them back. Just beyond the main doors of the museum, staff are working to build an exhibit on the parlors. You may or not be able to get married inside when it's all finished.

"The marriage parlor will run from here to here," Burke said, showing the museum's expansion project that looks to add a marriage parlor and other exhibits in the current museum facility. There are also plans to connect the historic home next door.

Their parlor will mirror ones that once filled those on Court Avenue and other parts of town. Burke said they're not ruling out the possibility that when it's finished, their marriage parlor will include a few legal 'I do's' inside.

"Have a justice of the peace come to our marriage parlor and marry people. I think that would be funny and fun," Burke said. "So that's our hook with cupid."

The Clark County museum is run entirely off donations. To contribute to the museum, donations are accepted at 725 Michigan Ave. P. O. Box 749 in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Copyright 2018 WAVE 3 News. All rights reserved.