The bride’s mother drew the line at seeing her daughter, Hope Wolf, married at the booking window of the Caswell County detention center in Yanceyville, N.C.
Ms. Wolf, 28, a doctoral candidate in human genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, had planned to marry in Apex, N.C., at the childhood home of her fiancé, Matthew Hill, 27, a software consultant with Red Hat, an open-source software developer in Raleigh, N.C.
But the coronavirus pandemic made it clear that their wedding, planned for May 2, “was a public-health disaster waiting to happen,” Ms. Wolf said. So they canceled in mid-March and began casting about for an alternative. And that’s how they ended up in Yanceyville.
The couple met when they were attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ms. Wolf says that they shared a friend group and met a number of times over the years, but it wasn’t until her senior year that they were all out together at a bar and Mr. Hill noticed her.
“I remember seeing her and thinking, ‘Wow! She’s cute!’” he said.
“He didn’t remember me for four years, so I always say, I know he doesn’t just like me for my looks,” she said.
The couple went out for coffee, and soon were dating steadily. In 2017, when she decided to go to graduate school, she remembers asking him if he wanted to move to Richmond with her. “Where do you see this going?” she asked.
He moved with her. And in 2018, they were engaged. “By the time we moved together to Richmond, it was firmly in my mind that we would one day get married,” Mr. Hill said.
Ms. Wolf’s mother passed along the bride’s grandmother’s engagement ring, which she then gave to Mr. Hill. “She was obviously hinting something,” he said. “She said, ‘Do with it what you will.’ I was like, ‘All right.’”
After canceling their planned wedding, the two tried to obtain a marriage license in Virginia, to no avail. They then began calling county after county over the border, in North Carolina, where both grew up, looking for an official who would issue a license to a pair of nonresidents.
In Yanceyville, the register of deeds was willing to accommodate them, and said that a magistrate could marry them immediately after they had obtained the license. The setting would be austere, with the magistrate behind glass in the sheriff’s office at the detention center.
And that’s when Ms. Wolf’s mother stepped in. “My mom really didn’t want us to get married in the jail,” Ms. Wolf said. “She said that would be too sad.”
The Rev. Elizabeth McNair Ayscue, a Presbyterian minister and the pastor of the bride’s childhood church as well as a family friend and neighbor of the Wolf family, also objected. “She’s not just my parishioner — she’s also my friend,” she said. “I said, ‘We’re not going to do that. We’re going to do something better.”
So instead of marrying in the county jail, on May 1, the couple, their parents and two friends met in the arboretum behind Caswell County’s historic courthouse, also in Yanceyville, and the Rev. Ayscue officiated.
“It was really nice,” Ms. Wolf said. “At the end of the day, I was just really happy we were able to be married, and that’s all that mattered to me.”