Manatee History Matters: Weddings have long history in Manatee village park

Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

The Old Meeting House at Manatee Village Historical Park has been the site of some 1,300 wedding ceremonies since its move to the park in 1975.

No doubt, countless weddings took place in the historic structure from 1889-1975 at its former location on the corner of 15th Street East and 4th Avenue. Originally, it was the home of the Union Congregation, and later became the Methodist-Episcopal Church South.

Our American melting pot has absorbed many of the wedding customs, symbols and traditions introduced by people from various cultures, some of which date back to ancient times. Many began in the Victorian era (1837-1901) and lasted until the very end of the Edwardian era (1901-1919). Some traditions are still apparent in today's weddings. Guests often throw rice, bird seed or confetti at the couples after weddings -- a practice that dates back to Roman times.

In a collection of local news clippings saved in scrapbooks belonging to Julia Reasoner Fuller (1872-1967) and preserved in the Manatee Public Library's digital collection, we read examples of how this area's couples were influenced by Victorian and Edwardian style.

The articles describe numerous weddings at a bride's home, often followed by a late breakfast reception. In the early part of the Victorian era, weddings were almost always held in a church, but by the 1890s it was popular to hold them at home. Couples were required by law to hold a morning ceremony before the 1880s. By the late 1880s, couples had more times to choose from. Southern weddings were frequently held at 6 p.m. when temperatures cooled.

One article circa 1890-1899 describes the decorations at a local wedding using orange blossoms "filling the church with their delicate perfume."

Another writes that the departing couple left their wedding "amid a shower of rice, old shoes and fare

well wishes." Her scrapbook pages dated 1903 describe the wedding attire: "bridesmaids dresses in organdie lace and satin ribbons, Crepe De Chine gowns with Panne velvet and rich appliqué trimmings, white picture hats with liberty silk and long ostrich plumes."

The white wedding dress and orange blossoms became fashionable for the masses when Queen Victoria of England married in a white satin gown and a bridal wreath of orange blossoms on her head. Not all women followed the fashion.

There were always some who wore their "Sunday best" to be married, or chose attire for practicality, something that could be worn again. This was especially true in late Edwardian times and after.

Scrapbooks marked 1915-1921 describe "brides in white satin deluxe, white kid gloves, with sprays of orange blossoms adorning their hair, flower girls going down the aisle strewing flowers, church pews marked with yellow tulle, young girls in white poke hats, and wedding suits of blue Silverstone and Georgette blouses." One interesting passage remarks on the practice of inserting charms in one of the wedding cakes: "the ring imbedded therein was found by Miss Alice Fry, and the thimble to Miss Katherine Carr."

This tradition was popular in the South. The charms often had meaning. If you pulled out a ring it meant you could be the next to marry. If you pulled out a thimble you could be destined for spinsterhood.

An elaborate wedding certificate hangs on the wall in the Old Meeting House at Manatee Village. In Victorian times and the early 1900s, these appear quite elaborate compared to today's plainer certificates issued by some government or religious organization.

The reason for intricate embellishment has been attributed to the fact that they often served as both the license and the commemorative certificate.

Today, Manatee Village Historical Park is a popular venue for weddings or vow renewals and holds great sentiment for many sixth- and seventh-generation families. The Old Meeting House (historic church), the courtyard, gazebo or the courthouse are usually used for the ceremony. Photographers like the site because the landmarks and majestic moss-draped oaks afford novel backdrops and a country chic atmosphere to frame wedding portraits.

Air conditioning and heating are recently added amenities. For more information on scheduling a wedding, please contact Christine Brown at 941-741-4076.

Christine Brown, special events coordinator, continues to enjoy witnessing weddings ceremonies at the park where couples "make their own history," design their own ceremonies, or follow time-honored wedding tradition.