By Dick Shellenbarger


Transcribed by: Judy Deeter

Edited by: Mike Robinson

Editor’s note: In excerpts from a recorded speech given on February 20, 1985, Mr. Shellenbarger provides an interesting review of early theatrical entertainment in Troy. The Opera House craze captivated Midwest audiences but ended with the advent of motion pictures and updated Ohio fire codes in 1924, which effectively shuttered second story theaters.

Opera House entertainment in Troy began in the early 1850s and continued to the death of the Troy Opera House around 1910. Prior to the opening of the Mayo Hall in 1854, Troy lecturers and revivals, presumably religious, seemed to be given in Troy churches.

When Henry F. Mayo built the Morris House Hotel, next door he built Mayo’s Hall. This third floor auditorium was the same height as the combined third and fourth floors of the hotel. Performers in the hall were able to dress in the hotel, come through a door in the back stage area of the hall. The hall was a theatre with a stage, an orchestra, and a balcony. It seated 500. The stage was at the front of the building against the windows on Market Street. The stone embedded in the façade showing Mayo’s Hall can still be seen above Kerr’s Office Supple and the Double Tree Gift Shop. The balcony is still in place. The blue ceiling is still there. Much of the old wallpaper is still on the walls.

In 1855, two of the attractions were the Continental Vocalist and the African Minstrels, with admissions of $.25 and $.10. Other attractions were the Alleghenian Vocalists and the Swiss Bell Ringers. Songs presented included the original Yankee Doodle, the Newspaper Song, and Aunt Jemima’s Classics. One backdrop was the flag with 34 stars. Another was the ship on fire. This had a complete Blacksmith’s shop on the stage. The Blacksmith’s fire was lit and if the wind was in the wrong direction, possibly if the Market Street windows were open, the smoke blew into the faces in the audience, the fire had to be put out and the anvil chores rendered without benefit of fire and bellows. On January 3rd, 1862, for an admission of $.25 for adults and $.15 cents for children, Troy was treated to the panorama of Niagara. This comes alive for us through the comments of the editor of the Troy Times: “ It is a masterpiece of art. The scenery is too beautiful yet not too grand to believe that it did not surpass the original. Strength and grandeur mist and rainfall, and shadow were all so perfect”. Mayo’s Hall was used extensively for High School graduations, and oratorical exhibitions. It was our only concert during the Civil War.

One of the noble groups that performed in Mayo’s Hall was the Hutchinson Family. This family started appearing as a group in 1839. These four brothers and a sister were America’s foremost singing group. This family appeared first in Troy at Mayo’s Hall, later their appearances took place in Dye’s Hall and then in Pearson’s Opera House this was another favorite of the Civil War. By the end of the war, over 2 million copies of Their hit song, “Camping on the old Camp Ground”, had been published. The settings of the poem had been made by a number of composers including Stephen Foster and the Hutchinsons. High casualties had sustained by the north by the summer of 1862. Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 more volunteers. The civil war years were probably the most traumatic in Americans history. The north had sustained high casualties by the summer of 1862, and Lincoln called for 300,000 more volunteers. It’s almost impossible now to visualize the hatred of Americans versus Americans and the horrible carnage and the death of so many tens of thousands of America’s hope and future.

The end of the war allowed a certain amount of humor to return, especially in the North at the expense of the South. After the surrender, Jefferson Davis fled to the Deep South, taking with him of course the Confederate Gold we buried. He was captured by Union Calvary in Georgia on May 10th, 1865, reportedly disguised with his wife’s dress and shawl. Whether this story was true or not, it was too good to be questioned. The result was a song, “Captain Petticoat.”

Next we move to Dye Hall, the third floor of the landmark Dye Building on the Public Square. It was built in the middle 1850s. It consisted of two large rooms; the old chandeliers in the rooms are almost intact. An interesting feature of the larger room is the orchestra pit, recessed in a separate room, halfway up the East wall of the room. The front of the picture is very, very similar to Dye’s Hall, with the tall windows, chandeliers very similar to those in Dye’s Hall. This one has the balcony for the orchestra pit as against Dye’s Hall having the room recessed back into the wall. The heyday of Dye’s Hall seems to have lasted but a few years until the middle 1860’s or 1872 when Pearson’s Opera House was opened. Attractions in 1866 and 1868 included Alf Howard, the famous violinist, the Harmonica Singer Boon, and the Troy Coronet Band, a musical and a festival. At band concerts, one of the obligatory numbers was a set of variations on an opera theme.

Well, you get the idea. With the opening of Pearson’s Opera House, the Dye Hall was used extensively. They claim references to a successful concert given by the ladies of St. Partakes, on Feb. 7th, 1880. In the 1890’s, Dye Hall hosted the largest dances of the city. The Masquerade Ball, the New Year’s Eve Ball, and the Fireman’s Ball. One room was used for dancing, and the other for serving food on long tables. A ball was opened with a Grand March and closed with a Waltz, danced to “Home Sweet Home.” In between came Square Dances, Waltz’s, and even the stately Minuet. There were Grand Marches, Polka’s, Shadishes, Two Steps, Quadrilles, Gallops, Home Sweet Home, Waltz’s. Even the Waltz arrangement of the Drinking song, “ In Heaven”, which later, in 1931, was made our National Anthem.

In 1872, the main center of entertainment moved to Pearson’s Opera House, built by the father of Joe Pearson, who many of you remember. This Opera House is now on the third floor of the Redman’s Hall at the corner of Main and Walnut Streets. I understand it no longer bears any resemblance to an Opera House. This Hall also had a relatively short life of being the chief entertainment center of Troy from 1872 to the opening of the Troy Opera House in March 1877. Shortly before that, on Jan. 15th, 1877, the Echo Glee Club, local vocalists, gave a concert. Included were many old plantation melodies, religious, sung by Old Auntie. Admission was $.25 and $.15. In all of the Opera Houses, many performances were by local talent.

With the opening of Troy’s new City Building in 1877, Troy acquired its grandest hall, the Troy Opera House. It occupied the third floor of the City Building, with a stage at the Market Street side and two stairways at the back, winding up to the second floor. There was an empty fourth floor about 10 feet high to keep the hall cool in summer and warm in winter. A block and tackle was used in a shaft to lift the sets from the front stairway. 600 chairs were brought in from Steinway Hall in New York. Near the stage was a parquet and red circle with folding chairs. For very popular performances an additional 100 folding chairs were brought in. The curtain was covered with a painting of the City Building surrounded by advertisements of local merchants. The Opera House was officially opened on March 12th, 1877, with the Pearson’s Guard appearing in full uniform. Entolby and Sons Company had especially perfumed the room for the occasion. Entolby and Sons were favorites for their pickles, and pickles made right, evidently for their perfume too. The first attraction was four nights of theatre by the Emolilin Theatrical Company. Presenting “Divorce”, “Two Orphans”, “Under the Gas Light” and the “Child Stealer”.

Even after the opening of the new Troy Opera House, Pearson’s Opera House was still used. In the 1880’s, it was the scene of several political meetings with Republicans, Democrats, as well as the Greenback Party. It was also used for the Farmer’s Institution and was rented to the Murphyites, a temperance organization. One of the plays they gave was “Ten Nights in A Barroom.” The part of the arrogant father was played so realistically, they debated for half of the performance as to whether or not he was really drunk. Following the play, quite a few people came forward and took the pledge. Each was presented with a little blue ribbon as evidence they were pledge signers. In the winter of 1881, the Hall became a roller skating rink but did not last long because of damage to the floor. During the 1880’s, the first Edison Talking Machine came to Troy. It was exhibited in Pearson’s Hall. A long line of adults and boys and girls came to pay $.05 each to be allowed to look and listen.

The Theatrical sequence began in September and lasted until June. The Opera House was the scene of Exhibitions, local talent plays, Musicals, Opera’s and Lecturers. A regular patron of the Opera House was Charles O’Donnell, a bachelor and a cobbler who lived in the rear of his shop at 5E Shepherd Avenue. It evidently was the alley that runs from the Public Square along Franklin Street past the Presbyterian Church. The cobbler shop was in the southeast corner of the Public Square and he lived behind that, so 5 E. Shepherd Avenue must have been that corner.

Our Public Libraries: First in the City Building and the second in the three year old Kyle School also served as lecture halls. Lecturers included Henry Ward Beecher, James Whitcomb Riley, General Lou Wallace, author of Ben Hur and grandson of the man who surveyed and laid out the City of Troy, the atheist Robert Engerthal, Congressman William McKinley, Marcus Hanna. One of the many presentations of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, especially the one on Oct. 2nd, 1906 which was purported to be the best of all. Two brass bands, two funny Marks, two mischievous topsy, genuine southern cake walkers, birds and wing dancers, male and female quartet, ponies, donkeys, blood hounds, a wagon drawn by Shetland ponies, Eva and the Golden Chariot, grand vision and transformation scenes, admission $.35 and $.50 plus a big parade at noon. On Nov. 30th, 1907, “The Warning Bell”. A great pastoral drama of country life in Old New England, $.35 and $$.50. The main characters, a stern old father, a good hearted mother, a devoted, pure hearted daughter, and a sailor rescued from a floating spar, two great scenes. The saving of the great ship and the evening service in Grace Church in New York City. “The Lion and the Mouse”, April 23rd, 1908. From the advertisement, quote “There are no wrong women or disillusioned male characters in this play”. On Oct, 19th and 20th, 1908, by the English Lutheran Church, the story of Martin Luther. A local cast of 200. Two allegorical processions and three scenes. City Council met early so that the members could go to the Lutheran Play at the Opera House. Nov. 11th 1907, P.R. Fenton, Annette Gray and a strong cast, and this one I would have loved to have seen, in a strong cast, beautiful scenery, and electric effects. Advertising of the day stated, “Come to the Opera House in the Cowboy Girl. The great sandstorm in the first act and the stampede of a 1000 wild steers as they dash across the stage is a feature which the theatre goers cannot afford to miss”. Finally, the Opera House was closed at the end of the season 1909, as it was unsafe. There were moves to turn it into a YMCA or a gymnasium but they came to naught. By March 1910, most of the property in the Opera House had been sold and the insurance lowered. In 1948, the stage was dismantled along with the advertisements on the walls, some dating back to 1878. In 1950, the third and fourth floors were removed. The last vestiges of a memorable and colorful era in the life of Troy.

The Victorian Era was characterized by a sentimental mentality. Songs and hymns published during the 1860’s and 1870’s deal generally with death, heaven, and angels and pirates. Among the working classes, child mortality was in ever-present danger. These songs seemed to have served the gentile devices, to stimulate feeling among middle and upper class Victorian. Music of the day could not realistically deal with tragic matters or life styles potentially repugnant to polite audiences. Their goal was to stir the feelings deliciously, not to disturb or insult.

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