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STAMFORD ASSEMBLY HALL/OPERA HOUSE

by Karen Cuccinello - posted here October 11, 2016

Although not totally complete, the Stamford Assembly Hall was put into use on June 30, 1900 for an Epworth League Convention, that facilitated anywhere from 1000 to 2000 attendee's, according to reports. The formal grand opening took place Tuesday evening July 24, 1900 with the performance of the opera "Belshazzar" that continued for three nights. Professor Thomas Peaslee of Blenheim made all of the arrangements for the opening event. Shortly after it's grand opening the Assembly Hall was referred to as the Opera House and was used for every conceivable gathering until it was closed and torn down in 1954.


click photos to view larger size

The first mention I found about erecting an opera house was March 1885 when Major George Gibbs drew up plans for an assembly hall. In the June 1886 edition of The Manufacturer and Builder, A Practical Journal of Industrial Progress a hall was mentioned. Once again it was mentioned in 1892; then seven years later, a community assembly hall became a reality.

October 1899 Stamford Mirror (SM)- The adjourned meeting of the people interested in building a hall for Stamford and organizing a Board of Trade was held at Churchill Hall. Atty. A.J. McNaught was appointed Chairman of the meeting and Howard Dyckman secretary. It was decided to organize a Board of Trade and papers of incorporation. A committee was appointed to present papers to the businessmen of the village, asking them to join the Board of Trade. The Hall project was discussed but it was deemed best to wait until a Board of Trade was organized before taking further action in the matter. (A Board of Trade had also been in operation in the 1880's.)

November 1899 (SM)- A meeting was held at Kendall Place, the topic was the Board of Trade, village improvements and the proposed Assembly Hall... the proposed building is estimated when completed to cost about $5,000 and to accommodate 1,200-1,500 people. It is estimated that it can be erected and be in shape for use the coming summer for $2,000...A number have asked why the site purchased by the Village of Mrs. Goodenough is not used. The reason is the 50' X 100' lot is not big enough. The proposed building will be 70' X 104'. The proposed Hall building will not be a tax on the Village, but it is proposed to raise the money by subscription...-(about a week later) A meeting of the Board of Trade was held at the Hamilton House for the purpose of selecting a site for the new opera house and for discussion of plans for building. A motion was unanimously carried, by the 39 members present, to purchase a site on the North end of Joseph Millan's lot. This is as near to the center of the village as it is possible to get and one that seems to meet with general favor. The financial committee has been at work for 2 days, taking subscriptions for the proposed building and have met with excellent success...

The 82' X 114' lot that sits behind the Stamford National Bank (74 Main St.) was purchased from Joseph Millan for $500.

Just imagine, only eight months later the Hall was in use. In February 1900 W.S. Stewart, Clifford Champion and James A. Tooley were in Oneonta and NYC looking for ideas on construction. In March John Muir, a Stamford architect and builder, was awarded the contract to erect the bare building for $4,500. The Ulster & Delaware RR contributed $2,000 towards the project. Evan Haines had charge of the excavation work and on April 1st the foundation was expected to be complete. Charles Husiest of Troy, the well known scenic artist, received an order for several scenes and a drop curtain in June of 1900, cost about $600. During the first week of July, J.G. Dean made a business trip to Kingston looking for the opera house seats which had failed to appear when expected. The 700 seats were found; shipped to Stamford by rail and hastily installed.

Once the structure was up the Board of Trade still had to arrange for: chimneys, painting, dressing rooms, lighting, heating, two additional boxes, several extra windows, outside steps for the fire exits and two water closets with necessary plumbing and fixtures. Stage furniture and properties cost $100.

The floor was arranged so that it could be raised from an inclined floor to a level one, even with the stage, making a large level floor suitable for banquets etc. This was said to be the first floor of it's kind in NYS. Anne Willis, Stamford Village Historian, told me that the dressing room was under the stage and had a door into the orchestra pit.

Two rooms over the lobby were nicely furnished and used by the fire companies for 50 years. The fire departments also held their annual supper and dance in the Hall for 50 years.

August 1900 (SM)- One of the attractive features at the new Opera House is the scenery which was furnished by the Huiest Theatrical Co. of Troy. The drop curtain represents a scene in Churchill Park, as viewed from the upper lake, showing the lake Honeymoon Cottage and the Log Cabin, with the surrounding woods; it is very pretty and realistic. There were also drops for street, garden and wood scenes. There are no wings and the stage is boxed in giving more room behind the scenes. The interior scenes include parlor, kitchen, prison etc.

The Opera House was used for: operas, plays and musicals by local and national talent; 144th Regiment Grand Army of the Republic reunions; balls and banquets; evangelist lectures; minstrel shows; Woman's Christian Temperance Union of NYS convention in 1903; debates; Stamford Seminary proms, performances and graduations; musical recitals; vaudeville; moving pictures; basketball games; Delaware county Dart Ball league dinner in 1940 and fundraisers to benefit churches, fraternal societies and other organizations of the village.

October 23, 1900 www.theodore-roosevelt.com Chronology of Speeches- Governor Theodore Roosevelt made addresses at Bloomville, Oneonta, Otego, Unadilla, Sidney, Norwich, Fleischmann, Arkville, Stamford, Roxbury and Shandaken, NY. On the occasion of Roosevelt's appearance, a crowd of probably 300 met him at the train, and headed by a band, escorted him to the Opera House. He was introduced by Judge John P. Grant and 1500 people listened to him. Roosevelt was then a candidate for vice-president.

During the week of April 14, 1914 the production of the comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore took place under the direction of Prof. Thos. Peaslee, for the benefit of the Board of Trade Band. Also in 1914 Messrs. F.B. and Ralph Herrick, under the auspices of Stamford K.O.T.M. (Knights of the Maccabees), presented a minstrel performance. According to Anne Willis minstrel shows were performed by dark skinned or light skinned people with dark make-up.

Operations of the Opera House were looked after by assorted people and or leased by theatrical groups.

In 1924 Mr. MacGregor, of the Opera House, was lending his cooperation and has commenced running the slides; Mr. William Smalley, lessee, will pay $1,200 a year, an increase of $200 over last year; The village will vote on a proposition to sell the Opera House for not less than $10,000.

March 1928 (SM-Recorder)-The Smalley-Stamford Theatre Corporation continued in possession of the Opera House under the provisions of the contract of previous years, annual rental is $1200.00. (Mr. Smalley built his new movie theater on Main St. across from the Opera House in 1927.)

July 1931 (Freemans Journal, Cooperstown)- The Drama Guild Stock Company players have leased the Opera House in Stamford for the season and will play there regularly.

July 1940- The Wood Players, directed by Miss Thea Wood of Forest Hills, have begun their second season of summer stock at the Opera House.

From a 1941 article; Will McAlpine had a lot to do with the inception and construction of the Opera House, as well as with the raising of funds to pay for it, and it's no wonder that it grieves him to some extent to learn of the "leaks" and "creaks" in a work which was the pride of his heart when it was new. Now with the Churchill Library and new central school building the Opera House, which so well served the community, finds less use today.

July 1954- Once Famous Opera House at Stamford is Razed for the lumber.

The two pictures of the Opera House are the only ones that I have seen.

Special thanks to Anne Willis who found some additional articles enabling the completion of this article.





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