County courthouses are popular spot for marriages

September 08, 2003|RICHARD C. BROWN

County courthouses in Kentucky serve numerous functions. Dramatic trials are held there. Elected magistrates consider legislation that affects all county residents. Property tax payments end up there. County courthouses are the destination for driver's licenses, automobile licenses, licenses to own a dog and marriage licenses.

People applying for and receiving a marriage license must use it and see that it is returned within a month to the courthouse where it originated. Failure to do so may result in a legal penalty. Back in the courthouse, marriage licenses become public record in Kentucky.

Lincoln County prides itself on having the oldest county records in Kentucky.

An index at the courthouse in Stanford shows that the earliest Lincoln County marriage took place on Feb. 20, 1781. On that date, William Barbee and Mary Smith were married. Boyle became a county in April 1842 and records in the county courthouse show that Boyle County's first marriage took place on the 12th of that month. Margaret Clemons was the bride and William Philips the groom in Boyle's first wedding.


There were, of course, hundreds of Lincoln and Boyle County marriages during the next hundred years. They followed an established pattern, beginning with marriage bonds showing that a marriage was expected to take place. Records would show that the marriage did take place, with the names of the bride and groom, the witnesses, the officiating minister and the location of the wedding.

The United States' involvement in World War II was getting under way in 1942, 100 years after the Boyle County wedding of William Philips and Margaret Clemons. There were numerous wartime marriages in Boyle County that year - in fact, 165 of them. But eight of them differed from the others because county Judge M.J. Farris presided over the ceremonies, which probably took place in the courthouse on Main Street.

Those eight may have set a precedent, but showed no distinctive pattern with ages. Oliver Sampson, 46, and Ruby Blake, 34, were the first couple married by County Judge Farris in 1942. Merrill Preston, 21, and Mattie Graham, were the youngest couple. Malinda Jewel Trent, 17, was the youngest bride.

Edward Carnier and Anna Mae Crandall had been married before but listed themselves as widowed and their ages as "21+." G.L. Bastin, 47, widowed, and Vina Goforth, 32, single, were married Sept. 30, 1942. So were John Durham, 21, and Bonnie Goforth, 21. Probably Vina and Bonnie were sisters as all four were from Casey County.

Marriage is an old institution but marriage by a county judge in a county courthouse is a late 20th-century development in central Kentucky. The number of marriage licenses issued in Boyle County increased from 165 in 1942 to 266 in 1992, an increase of only 101. Amazingly, however, the number of courthouse weddings grew from eight in 1942 to 83 in 1992. County Judge- Executive Mary C. Pendygraft officiated at 73 of these, Judge Darren Peckler at 10. These two judicial officials united nearly one-third of all the couples married in Boyle County in 1992.

A similar development took place in Lincoln County. In 1992 there were 203 marriage licenses issued there, resulting in 203 marriages. Sixty-one of these were courthouse weddings. The popularity of courthouse weddings have continued in the 11 years from 1992 to the present. E.J. Hasty, judge-executive of Garrard County, estimates he has presided at 200 weddings in the county courthouse at Lancaster during the past five years. Lincoln County's Judge-Executive Ronald "Buckwheat" Gilbert believes "conservative pastors in conservative churches" have created the need for courthouse weddings. Gilbert has become known for his willingness to satisfy this need.

Pat Montgomery, currently payroll clerk for Lincoln County, remembers a time when the approach of Valentine's Day created a cluster of requests for courthouse marriages. At that time, efforts were made to provide some romantic embellishments to the room where marriages would take place. Now courthouses are crowded, she said, while increased requests for courthouse weddings have spread throughout the year.

Mary Pendygraft probably has had more experience with courthouse marriages than anyone in central Kentucky. She started in 1963 as an assistant in the office of County Judge Gilbert L. White. When he was unable to preside at a courthouse wedding, she was allowed to do so. In 1978 she was elected to the new office of county judge executive, one of the first women in Kentucky to hold that position. Before her retirement in 1992, Pendygraft presided at hundreds of courthouse weddings. "Seven in one day," she laughingly refers to as her record.

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