April 1, 2014
JAMESTOWN — The Jamestown Opera House, of Late Victorian Architecture, was built in 1889 by Jamestown Village and Silvercreek Township. After recovering from the great “cyclone” of 1884, which left every structure in the village either damaged or destroyed, Jamestown needed a centralized meeting place. So village and township officials purchased lot no. 12 at the corner of N. Limestone and E. Xenia Sts. from James H. and Susan Zortman Glass to erect such a building.
With John MacLean as architect, Matthew Moorman & Sons, who had submitted the low bid of $11,454.00, began work in June, 1889 and completed the task in December of the same year. Building dedications were held Dec. 31, 1889, Jan. 1 & 2, 1890 with the Blanche Slader Comedy Company as the featured entertainment.
Multiple articles described the grand opening in the Xenia Gazette and Torchlight. From the Dec. 28, 1889 edition: “The people of Jamestown will open and dedicate their new town and township house (Opera House) on the nights of Dec. 31st, Jan. 1st and 2nd. The company they have engaged is the Blanche Slader Comedy Co. which is highly recommended. The opening of the hall is quite an important affair and the Jamestown people will see that it is done right. From the Dec. 31st edition: “The new Opera House at Jamestown will be opened this evening December 31st by the Blanche Slader Co. The Opera House is one of the prettiest in the county. A number of young people from this city will go up to attend the opening.” From the Jan. 3rd edition: “The opening of the handsome new opera house in Jamestown was such a decided success in all respects that the citizens of that place have prevailed on the traveling troupe, “The Blanche Slader Comedy Co.” to remain over the rest of the week. The admission has been reduced to 20, 25 and 30 cents.”
Most opera houses constructed in that era were of commercial/entertainment design or municipal/entertainment design. The Jamestown Opera House is unique in that it served all three concepts – commercial, business and entertainment. The upstairs auditorium hosted musicals, traveling medicine shows, school plays and graduations, educational and religious seminars, dramas, silent movies with piano accompaniment by local talent and a temporary meeting place for churches. Many traveling troupes came to Jamestown as it was easily accessible by train and the nearby depot hotel provided housing. The hotel building is still standing on Verity Street.
The downstairs municipal space at various times housed the mayor’s office, council chambers, township offices, fire department, police station, jail and library. A gun shop, shoe factory, barber shop, jewelry shop and small engine repair shop were some of the various commercial enterprises to occupy the first floor.
From 1889-1936, the Opera House was the center of community activities. When the new Silvercreek Township centralized school, which included theatrical facilities opened in 1937, the Opera House was no longer used and fell into disrepair. The last known event in the Opera House was the graduation of the class of 1936.
After hearing rumors the building might be razed, 14 concerned citizens met in 1997 to reorganize the Jamestown Area Historical Society with Jim Weeks serving as president for 2 years. In 1999 the Historical Society began serious talks with township and village officials concerning the possibility of renovation, repair and the return to community service of the Opera House. The loss of several historic buildings in 1993 and 1995 fires made the Opera House with its historic and sentimental value an even more important link to Jamestown’s past and gave a heightened sense of urgency to its preservation.
After much discussion in the community that possibility became a reality. The building was still jointly owned, and while highly supportive of the project, village council did not wish to take an active role. Township trustees agreed to become involved and so in Jan., 2001, the village donated its share to the township for $1.00 making Silvercreek Township the sole owner. In May, 2001, the Historical Society signed a lease agreement with the township which signaled the beginning of the actual renovation process.
The building was placed on the National Historic Register in 2007 and in 2013, the Historical Society, the Silvercreek Township Trustees and Greene County Board of Commissioners were presented a Preservation Merit Award from the Ohio Historical Society for their work in renovating the Opera House.
Currently, the Opera House is working on adding an elevator to the auditorium. If anyone would like to help with this project checks designated “elevator fund” may be sent to the Jamestown Area Historical Society, PO Box 162, Jamestown.
The Historical Society will be holding a meeting at 7 p.m. on April 10th at thee Opera House. For more information, please call 937-675-3501 or 937-675-5751.