Octagon House Museum • Hudson Wisconsin

Hudson – The Midwest’s Gretna Green

Elope to Gretna Green If you’ve never heard the story, you may be wondering what a “Gretna Green” is in the first place. Gretna Green is a small town in Scotland that at one point was along a major road that connected England with Scotland. This prime location would serve a very significant purpose.

During the mid-18th century, English marital laws became increasingly strict, and couples had to be 21 years old before they could marry without their parent’s consent. That marriage also had to take place in a church. These new laws didn’t bode well with the vivacity of young love. The only immediate solution for these couples was to elope in Gretna Green, Scotland where, “you could marry on the spot, in a simple ‘marriage by declaration’, or ‘handfasting’ ceremony, only requiring two witnesses and assurances from the couple that they were both over the age of 16 and free to marry” (“Why Flee to Gretna Green?”). These lax laws drew in thousands of young couples – all crossing the border in haste – to seal the marriage. And just to add more scandal to it all, the couples were typically married by none other than an Anvil Priest. This “priest” was actually the town’s blacksmith and got his name from hammering his anvil after assisting these runaway couples in tying the knot.

So what does Hudson have to do with all of this?

While Hudson did not have such a romanticized past, it still was in a sense, a Gretna Green. According to the Chicago Journal (1894), “Nine hundred and fifty-six persons got married in Hudson, Wis., during the year just ended.  Considering that the total population of the place is less then 4,000, it is doubtful if any other village in the world, of the same size, can show so excellent a record.” Very few were actually residents of Hudson, but rather, they were young couples eloping from Minnesota, primarily residents of St. Paul and Minneapolis. The same trend carried from Gretna Green to Hudson: with lax Wisconsin marriage laws, a tide of young Minnesota residents came to get married.  The poem, “When Hudson was a Gretna Green” reminisces that time:

Hudson’s Chicago Northwestern DepotThe hackmen at the depot stand
 In Hudson;
The preacher waits, prayer book in hand,
In Hudson;
The village squire reclines at ease
And dreams of liberal fees,
And daily thanks the Lord that he’s
In Hudson
.

Despite Hudson elopers not being married by an Anvil Priest, the romance still existed. Hudson remained a Gretna Green until Wisconsin marriage laws tightened. Still, it is exciting to imagine the whirlwind romance that brought young couples to Wisconsin’s Gretna Green.


Source: To Learn More about the original Gretna Green, please visit this source:
“Why Flee to Gretna Green?.” Gretnagreen.com. Web. 19 Apr. 2016. http://www.gretnagreen.com/why-flee-to-gretna-green-a739.
Poem and newspaper clipping credited to the St. Croix County Historical Society research center.

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