The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

December 10, 2012

Committee works to restore 120-year-old opera house

ELDON — The McHaffey Opera House in Eldon is being restored to its original grandeur bit by bit and will soon be ready to host plays again.

The first floor of the building was bursting with 100 lit and decorated Christmas trees as visitors passed through during the McHaffey Opera House’s annual Christmas Tree “Wanderland” this weekend.

“That’s what this event is all about, is thanking the community for supporting us,” said Toni McClure, treasurer for the committee working to restore the 120-year-old opera house.

The trees belong to the committee, and businesses and individuals throughout the community can come in to decorate them.

“We never charge for anything,” she said. “It’s a thank you to them. It’s a lot of work, but the community really seems to like it.”

The group has been working on restoring the opera house for 18 years, and Christmas Tree Wanderland has graced the first floor for the past 10 to 12 years.

Over the years, the committee has raised thousands of dollars through their thrift store, as well as some grants.

They have been able to install new roofs, a furnace and air conditioning unit, windows and more. They even secured theater seats to fill part of the opera house with some of the original seating in the upper tiers.

The opera house was built in 1891 by David McHaffey from the bricks he had in his brickyard, McClure said. The ground floor always housed businesses while the auditorium upstairs was used for plays.

“We were on a circuit,” McClure said. “Different plays would come here from around the country, and the actors would stay at The Exchange Hotel.”

Another committee member, Jo Eddy, said originally, the opera house was entirely flat, though it had a balcony.

“And originally, the Eldon High School basketball team played up here,” Eddy said.

Eldon High School also held its graduation ceremonies in the auditorium from 1891 to 1941.

Today’s stadium seating didn’t show up until the 1920s, when the auditorium was renovated, the balcony was taken out and the projection room was installed.

The auditorium became the place to go for silent films. The last movies shown at the opera house were in 1947 after the local movie theater was flooded.

The committee acquired the building in 1994 and had a lot of work ahead of them.

“It was a total mess up there,” McClure said. “It hadn’t been used since the 1940s. It needed a lot of work.”

All that’s left now is one major project — they either need to restore the walls flanking the stage or paint over them — as well as a few minor projects.

“It’s been a long, ongoing project, but it’s well worth it,” she said.

Eventually, their goal is to put a museum on the first floor and bring plays back to the opera house.

“It’s another old building that’s not torn down,” she said. “It preserves our history.”

McClure said it’s impressive that for a town of Eldon’s size, they have five buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We’re getting down to where we can see the light,” McClure said.

1
Text Only
Local News
  • 0724 OTT Tehel mug -T -M Resolution — Techel verdict reached

    DAVENPORT — The father of a slain Wapello County woman said he began to heal as soon as he heard the guilty verdict today. The jury unanimously pronounced Seth Techel, 23, guilty on charges of first-degree murder and non-consensual termination of a h

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0725 OTT Riverfront design A new outlook on Ottumwa OTTUMWA — A "River Renaissance" is brewing in Wapello County. Planners working for Christian Rushing Studio from Tennessee took the public's ideas, and gave them life via maps, numerical projections and artists' renderings. "Hold onto your seats; you

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0725 OTT Sports EBF softball cover photo EBF advances to State Finals FORT DODGE — Fifth-ranked Eddyville-Blakesburg-Fremont had a very tough task in front of itself in a Class 2A semifinal Thursday at the state softball tournament at Rogers Park. All the Rockets had had to do was beat top-ranked Highland to reach thei

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • Police to parents: check kids' online activities BLOOMFIELD — The Bloomfield police chief says the arrests of nine men in connection with sexting a teenage girl underscores the need for parents to keep an eye on their children online. Chief Shawn Armstrong said cases involving one or two people are

    July 24, 2014

  • 0725 OTT birthday rumble -T -M Age 106, still ready to rumble OTTUMWA — With the stories flowing, Celma Birdsall had the ride of her life Thursday. "She shared a lot of memories," said her chauffeur for the day, Dennis Parrish. Birdsall has built up a lot of stories over the 106 years she's been around. After h

    July 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • 0725 OTT College Connections color photo -T -M IHCC eases transition to college OTTUMWA — When choosing a college that's just right for you, it is important to find one that works its hardest to ensure your success as a student. Indian Hills Community College is doing just that this week with a College Connections Workshop spons

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0724 OTT Tehel mug -T -M Techel found guilty on both counts

    DAVENPORT — Jurors have found Seth Techel guilty in the 2012 murder of his wife, Lisa, and the couple’s unborn child.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victim advocates: Helping families cope

    DAVENPORT — Family members of a slain Wapello County woman have someone to lean on — literally and figuratively — while they sit through a murder trial for the third time. Seth Techel, 23, is on trial in Scott County, Davenport. He faces charges of fi

    July 24, 2014

  • 0725 OTT Five Things logo -L -T Five things to do in southeast Iowa this weekend OTTUMWA — There's a wide variety of activities to choose from this weekend in southeast Iowa. Get out and explore the countryside, find some new books to curl up with or help raise money for some great causes. The choice is yours — pick one or attend

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • 0724 OTT Tehel mug -T -M Jury begins deliberations DAVENPORT — The fate of a Wapello County man accused of killing his wife is in the hands of a jury in Scott County, which began deliberations Wednesday and will continue deliberating today.The jury began deliberations about 4 p.m. Wednesday in the ca

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

Photo reprints


Obituaries

Facebook