North Dakota’s Gretna Green

Jan 29, 2018



Gretna Green may be the most romantic town in Scotland. It has been known as a destination for young lovers ever since 1754 when England enacted a law requiring a couple to be over twenty-one to marry without parental consent.

And the marriage had to be a public ceremony in the couple’s local parish. Scotland, however, allowed couples over the age of fifteen to marry without their parents’ consent. Located near the English border, Gretna Green was the natural destination for young lovers from England who wished to marry.

On this date in 1909, the Golden Valley Chronicle named Dickinson as the “Gretna Green” of North Dakota. It was a common practice for couples in the western portion of the state to slip off to Dickinson to get married. The newspaper said Dickinson was attracting couples from Dunn, Billings, Hettinger, Bowman, and Morton counties.

Dickinson might seem like an unusual choice for a destination wedding. In come cases, the couples were simply eloping, getting married without the attendance of family and friends. But there was also a practical reason for choosing Dickinson – the availability a judge to perform the service. In the surrounding counties, judges were often less accessible. It was simply more reliable and easier for couples to combine their wedding with their honeymoon by traveling to Dickinson.

There was, however, a fly in the ointment. The newspaper predicted that there would be a great deal of consternation among the happy homes of North Dakota when married couples woke up to discover they were not, in fact, married. A couple who traveled to a neighboring county to obtain a marriage license and get married would return home in blissful ignorance of the fact that such a marriage was illegal!  According to North Dakota law, one member of the couple had to be a resident of the county in which the marriage license was obtained. And while the law had been broken in other locations across the state, it appears Dickinson was without a doubt the wedding destination of choice for many.

The newspaper assured readers that the state legislature was aware of the unusual and upsetting situation, and was working on a remedy. A failure to do something, it was said, would be “too dreadful to contemplate.”

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Golden Valley Chronicle. “Marriages Are Unlawful.” Beach, ND. 29 January 1909. Page 1.

Historic UK. “Gretna Green.”  Accessed 18 December 2017.