Rich Hill's Historic Opera House (Wagon Wheels)May 31,1979
By Mary Griffin
In the late 1880's when the town was booming and the population was increasing daily,Thomas D. Sanderson, a hardware merchant, and S. B. Lashbrook saw the possibilities of a profitable enterprise by providing a place for entertainment and pubic meetings. With this in mind they built a two story double brick structure at the cost of $11,000 in the heart of town.The ground floor was used for a drugstore and grocery store.
The upstairs was to be opera house fashioned after those in the larger metropolitan areas. The gallery would seat five hundred people. The opera house was to be used for dramatic presentations using both local talent and commercial entertainers.
It was also used for public speakers when such dignitaries as Governors Marmaduke, Polk, Francis and Dockery acme to town. Many important speakers appeared on the platform including senators W.J. Stone and Jarves A. Reed. William Jennings Bryan, Candidate for President, also known as the "Silver Tongued Orator" was scheduled to make an appearance, but a tornado near Joplin delayed his Train for Several hours, and the speech had to be canceled.
The Opera House served still another purpose. When the businessmen met to consider important issues for the improvement of the town, the meeting was held in the Opera House. Representatives of Railroads met with business men try to sell shares for the construction of a Railroad to nearby towns. On one occasion $100,000 was pledge to build a railroad to Walker, Schell City and ElDorado Springs.The project never materialized not for the lack of money or cooperation but because of the difficulty of building a grade across the Maraais Des Cygnes bottoms.
During the time that Sanderson and Lashbrook owned the Opera House, it was first managed by Jake Goldenburg and later by Newman Gassam.The Gassam Home was a large house on the Northwest corner of second and Myrtle Streets.
Mr. E.W. Heims became the next owner and Mr. Alva Gordon father of Mr.W.W.(Cory)Gordon and Marshall Gordon, became the manger. Alva Gordon and Frank Isley had a picture show. I have been told there were two other picture theaters in town, the Happy Gem and Spraker's. This was in the early days of motion picture industry, and Rich Hill was providing the latest in entertainment for the citizens.
In 1920 Mr. H.M. Booth, owner of a Funeral home and livery Stable, bought the Opera House. Bill Long and Otis Baker, both mail carriers operated the projector. In a short time the building was destroyed by fire.The grocery store of Albert Christman and Henry Porter's restaurant were completely destroyed. The fire threatened to destroyed the whole block, but the efficiency of the fire department confined the fire to the building.When Remodeling,the top story was taken off and the ground floor was completely remodeled decorated and converted into a modern,up to-date picture theater, but retained the name Opera House.This was the day of silent pictures and Opal Jones Newton played the piano always varying the tempo of the music with the action of the show.During the late 1920's when talking pictures were introduced,the Booth Theater was one of the best in this part of the country.The Sound effects were good and the projection on the screen was excellent.
During the depression years the show was in operation nightly. Every Friday was family night when the whole family(going as a unit)was admitted for 10 cents each. The Booth Theater or Opera house continued to serve the purpose for which it was originally built.
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Rising Sun Opera.
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In the 1920's a dramatic production using local talent was presented.
The Opera House continued to be used for school and community programs until the gymnasium was built at the High School in 1938.
In addition to performances at the Opera House, Rich Hill also held a Fall Festival each year in October.This usually took place on the streets and in the parks. Over a period of nearly 100 years rich Hill entertainment has changed with the times.For a number of years Thursday night was considered Band Concert night with the Rich Hill Band providing an evening's entertainment in the park. Friday night was Family night at the show. Saturday night everyone went to town to buy the weeks groceries, get a hair cut or take care of business maters. Family members not busy sat in their cars and watched or visited with friends who walk around the streets until nine or ten o'clock when the stores begun to close for the night. We forget that we didn't always have paved streets downtown. Before the streets were
paved there were board sidewalks crossing the street at intersections and other places.There were hitching racks at the back of the stores where people who came to town in buggies, carriages, wagons or on horseback could tie the horse until time to go home.There was even a law stating how long a horse could be left tied without giving it food and water. Now we find there are no more stage shows at the Opera House and with the coming of television, the picture show has lost much of its appeal. Now Rich Hill,Like many other towns finds it difficult to support a movie theater. However, with an energy crunch, the local theater may once again become a popular form of entertainment.
Very intresting reading.The only thing I would add would be purely promotional.That would be to state that the Opera is still operating.and the stage has been remodled to accomodate acts rangeing from Plays performances to Band. Feel free to share it on my two sights
JW Adams and
Rising Sun Opera.
On Facebook. Thanks.