by Anna Wallace, Former Village Historian
The early Opera Houses were the major activity and entertainment centers for their communities. The first one here was Compton’s Opera House on Main Street, where the old theater, as and where the dentist office is located now. It burned in 1876.
I’ve not learned just when the Opera House on State Street was built. In 1886 it was known as the VanDyke Opera House, owned by Robert Davison and managed by J. VanDyke. The following year management, as by J. E. Cooper, who later established the Middleport Herald (newspaper) and Myron S. Pike. More dressing rooms were added, more chairs purchased, and the box office was relocated at the head of the stairs.
From an early post card picture, it looks as though the box office might have been a small “room” located on ground level at the east front corner of the building. Max Harpuder moved to Middleport from Wilcox, PA, in 1895 to opera business, and the Opera House was the only building available for purchase. He had his business on the street level, and managed the music house for two years, featuring the Guy Brothers Minstrel Shows and other troupes, and medicine shows. In 1897 he moved his clothing business to the Linus Spalding store on Main Street. There he always remained.
Many parties were held at the Opera House; Mrs. Ella Taylor Bennett directed many plays as she had a wide experience in theater before coming to Middleport. A skating rink was opened in 1908, skating two nights per week with a 7-piece orchestra furnishing music; 15 cents included the rental of skates. A series of dances were held in 1914, and a banquet was held in honor of George F. Thompson, possibly when he was elected NYS Senator. In 1924 the high school Senior Ball was held there.
Automobile agencies used the building from the time of the Sears Motor Sales in the early 1920s, and dances were held upstairs at “Sears Hall”. When Hollinger & Shaw purchased the building in 1932 they displayed their new” cars in the show room on the first floor, and warehoused their used autos in the upstairs. A wide, steep ramp came down to the street level, and when an employee was bringing a car down, its brakes failed. He went straight across the street, into a door yard, between a tree and a telepphone pole — no damage done! No traffic coming!
Photo — Inside the Opera House in Middleport. The opera house was the scene of many gay parties during the early two decades of the 1900. This photo was taken at a “hard time” party around 1910. During this period Ella Bennett produced and directed many home-talent plays.