The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Community

August 31, 2013

Opera houses grew amid cultural awakening

With the discovery of natural gas in the late 1800s came a period of previously unimaginable prosperity that ushered in an era of cultural awakening unlike anything our citizens had ever witnessed before.

It was the era of the opera houses in Madison County, and it represents a period when our predecessors experienced entertainment on a whole new level far beyond anything they had previously experienced.

Before it ended, five Madison County communities would give rise to some of the most elaborate architectural structures of their day. Not only were they pleasing aesthetically, they were also quite functional.

By definition, an opera house is a theater building used for opera performances that consists of a stage, an orchestra pit, audience seating, and backstage facilities for costumes and set building. While some venues were constructed specifically for operas, other opera houses were part of larger performing arts centers. The latter part of that definition adequately describes Madison County's experience.

But why did only five towns build these popular cultural centers, and not all the towns within our borders? The answer can be explained in one word: Railroads.

Four major railr routes passed through Madison County. The Michigan Division of the Big Four made regular stops in Anderson and Alexandria; the Lake Erie and Western in Alexandria and Elwood; the Pennsylvania in Anderson, Frankton and Elwood, and the Big Four in Pendleton and Anderson.

Those five towns built opera houses to attract the traveling shows that utilized the railroads to crisscross the United States performing wherever and whenever there was a suitable venue.

Building survives

Seating capacity was a major consideration simply because more attendance meant more revenue. Madison County had a variety of capacities which reflects a direct correlation with the size of the production that performed. We will begin with the smallest.

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