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Caborn Chapel serves as popular, historic wedding venue

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By Rachel Christian

Nestled on top of a rolling hill in the Posey County countryside is a small chapel with a growing reputation.

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The Caborn Chapel has hosted over 200 weddings in the last four years, with upcoming dates booked as far out as 2019. Its owner, Scott Hollowman, said the chapel’s charm and rural location are appealing to many couples preparing to tie the knot.

“It’s a small building, which allows the ceremony and reception to be much more intimate,” said Hollowman, who purchased the property in 2012. “Some people don’t want a big production. They want something simple, down to earth and affordable.”

The chapel’s history

The Caborn Chapel is by no means a trendy new destination venue. In fact, 2017 marks the structure’s 130th anniversary. Its white wooden-frame has held a series of different congregations over the decades, the most established being St. John’s Methodist Church.

When Hollowman - a Carmi, Illinois native - inquired about a home off Caborn Road about five minutes north of State Road 62, the realtor asked if he would be interested in acquiring the chapel as well.

“There was still a small congregation operating out of it at the time,” Hollowman said. “I told them they were more than welcome to keep worshiping there.”

But according to Hollowman, a few months after he purchased what once served as the preacher’s house, the congregation dwindled and eventually tapered off completely. The few remaining members fractured, going their separate ways to join churches to the east and south.

“More and more of these small country churches are becoming vacated and abandoned,” Hollowman said. “They get so small that those who are left just end up going to bigger churches.”

After the chapel became empty, Hollowman set to renovating the space. During his repairs, he came across old German Bibles used by parishioners prior to World War I, along with old diaries and church records dating back for generations.

Hollowman didn’t want to see the condition of the small church begin to deteriorate from lack of use. The owner said this is why he ultimately chose to begin renting out the location for weddings and other events.

“This was a way I could help preserve the building, and the money it generates helps pay for upgrade and maintenance costs,” he said.

Getting the word out

The Caborn Chapel has been promoted almost exclusively through Facebook and word of mouth. Despite the lack of traditional advertising, Hollowman said the venue averages roughly 50 weddings annually – or a wedding party for nearly every weekend of the year.

Dozens of couples have stood before the antique alters, but Hollowman said assisting and arranging each event is different. Some couples plan detailed weddings complete with professional planners, expensive catering and a separate reception location. Others host small, quiet ceremonies with a couple dozen guests.

Hollowman said he and his assistant, Gracie Buckley, try to fill in and help where they can on the big day. Buckley has served as bartender during a number of receptions, while Hollowman has filled in for last-minute cancellations from ministers, photographers and even DJs.

The chapel has seen a number of themed weddings as well, including a Harry Potter one planned for this weekend. They have performed spontaneous elopements, and scheduled events on unusual days like Halloween.

“You can’t use a one-size-fits-all approach to each wedding,” Hollowman said. “Everyone is different, and wants something different from the experience.”

All the wedding parties at Caborn Chapel do share one thing in common – they are small. With only about 1,700 square feet of combined upstairs and downstairs space, the parties can’t exceed more than about 85 guests.

A lock, an anchor and a bell

Three features stand out about the tiny chapel. Downstairs there is a special room full of padlocks and other locks hung along the walls. Each lock has the name of a different couple written on its side. The room has a set of stone stairs leading to large glass windows that flood the space with bright sunlight in the afternoon. Hollowman said the lock and key tradition is a symbolic gesture he started at the chapel after learning about a bridge called the Pont des Arts in Paris.

“Couples and lovers had been hanging their locks on the bridge and tossing the keys into the river for about six or seven years,” Hollowman said. “The government eventually had to take them off and ban it. The weight of the locks was actually weighing down the bridge and damaging it.”

According to Buckley, the last lock count in the room totaled 220.

Hollowman said the object most frequently inquired about at the Caborn Chapel is the mariner’s cross sitting atop the church steeple. Present at the time Hollowman purchased the property, the stylized combination of a cross and anchor serves as a symbol of both strength and hope.

“People ask us about that cross a lot,” Hollowman noted. “It is something unique that this church has, and we’re proud to have it on display.”

After the couple exchanges I dos, they typically exit to the right and head out the front doors of the building. But before they depart, it is customary at Caborn Chapel for them to pull the bell rope.

Suspended from the ceiling is about 20 feet of sturdy rope connected to a church bell measuring about three feet in diameter in the steeple above. The bride usually tolls the bell, but she must let go of the rope quickly after giving it a strong tug; the energy released by the bell’s motion is enough to cause rope burn if the ringer hangs on too long.

The ringing of the chapel bells is a sound that can be heard throughout the nearby countryside, serving as a friendly reminder that another set of newlyweds has joined their union.

“We love to hear that sound,” Hollowman noted. “Seeing people happy, in love and surrounded by their friends and family is a great business to be a part of.”