The Greenfield Opera House

((Frank) We’re back. (Deb) Frank, you did, was it last year, who can keep up with the time, you featured a lot of the opera houses throughout the state. So you’re really familiar with the history of how the opera houses came to be. (Frank) Opera houses were kind of the mark of culture in a town. A lot of it was whether they had a railroad or not too. (Deb) Right. (Frank) They would build a church, a school, an opera house and then they — (Deb) Called it a town. (Frank) Called at the town [laughs]. Well, because if you think of it, [laughs] they didn’t have a radio or TV. They had an opera house that many times served as their city meeting hall. Then there were a lot of travelling groups that came through and that was their entertainment, it’s like, Hey, let’s go. Let’s go. (Deb) One of my favorite movies, and most of my buddies who are fans of westerns, the movie Tombstone. Of course it’s a great scene in the movie Tombstone where you got the travelling troop that’s performing for all these rowdy cowboys, very, very accurate. That’s a great little scene. You’ve got them doing the Shakespearean stuff and singing and just doing little bits of vignettes. That’s very typical of what those opera houses would have, the kind of shows they would’ve had. (Frank) Yes. Well, and like I said, the railroads had a lot to do with it too. Because there were a lot of touring companies that of course were actually owned by the railroads and they would go town to town and perform as well. (Deb) That would encourage, like you said, foster culture and all kinds of good times. We’re going to share the story of one of those opera houses that the community has come together to preserve and restore. There’s communities all over Kansas doing this and with very limited budgets. It’s just an amazing story, in every case of the community coming together to save that very central part of what made them a town. Let’s take a look at the Grainfield Opera House. For most of its existence, the Grainfield Opera House, located on 3rd and Main, has been used as a community center. Designed to accommodate a variety of commercial and social uses, the building represents the early optimism and subsequent fortunes of Grainfield and the surrounding agricultural territory. In fact, the town takes its name from the area wheat fields. Construction began on the Opera House in 1887. The basement was dug and the dirt was used to grade the streets. The limestone was shipped from the Bunker Hill area and the brick came from the kiln northwest of town. The ornate cast iron facade was manufactured by the Mesker Brothers of St Louis and was shipped westward by rail. Local workmen assembled and attached it to the structure. In 1888, the Opera House began renting space to local businesses. The newspaper, mercantile and general merchandise stores, a harness shop, doctors office, hardware store, and, subsequently, auto store and a car dealership. It also housed the Masonic Lodge. Vaudeville troupes, hypnotists, comedians, and boxers were among the entertainers that frequented the stage. Most of the stock companies arrived by rail and stayed three to five nights. Those coming to dances often arrived before sundown, danced until midnight, then went to the hotel for a meal, and returned to dance until daylight. Renovated and preserved, the Opera House is once again the center of the small town. Grainfield boasts a population of about 300 souls. The Opera House is on the National Register of Historic Places. Weddings, anniversary dinners, and family reunions, any of the reasons that people come together, all of those events take advantage of this historic Gove County landmark.

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