Earlville Opera House History
Any history of the Earlville Opera House would have to begin by noting that the EOH has served as a focal point for community activities and the arts since 1892. The present
theater is the third to be constructed on the same site, the previous two having been destroyed by fires before 1895. From 1892 to 1922, the Opera House provided a stage for live entertainment, such as vaudeville acts, three-penny operas, and travelling medicine shows. In the early decades of the 20th century, it was converted to a silent movie house, and took on the role of public auditorium, hosting an occasional political caucus, high school graduation or town meeting.
Closed during the early years of the Great Depression, the theater was reopened in 1937 with renovations to accommodate talking movies. For almost fifteen years, the EOH served as the locals’ spot for Hollywood's newest releases. But the 1950's, with the realities of cars, drive-ins, and television, forced the small second story theater out of competition, and in 1952, the doors were locked, seemingly for good.
In 1971, with almost two decades of disuse adding to its decrepitude, the building was threatened by demolition. The theater was purchased by Joey Skaggs, and given to the Earlville Opera House, Inc. A volunteer board of directors was assembled and restorative work began immediately. Since that time, the Opera House has operated as a volunteer-based, not-for- profit organization with a dual mission: to provide the highest quality arts, cultural and entertainment events to our rural constituency; and to renovate and rehabilitate the Opera House's historic theater. In 1974, the EOH was named to the National Register of Historic Places. In 1976, the Opera House saw its first live performance in more than fifty years. Currently, the EOH is a facility which is the pride of the community and a true focal point for the arts.
The village opera house, a phenomena once widespread throughout the rural northeast, was, at the turn of the century, a significant part of the cultural and social growth of the locale around Earlville, New York. The Earlville Opera House was one of at least six other opera houses in villages adjacent to Earlville in the 1890's. There was one in New Berlin, east of Earlville, one in Waterville, to the north, one in Sherburne, to the south. The latter was torn down in 1971 to make room for a parking lot. There was an Opera House in Hamilton, to the north, which was gutted and rebuilt into a movie theater and apartments. Smyrna's Opera House became the town offices; Oriskany Falls' was destroyed by fire. What is most exceptional about the Earlville Opera House is the fact that it still exists intact - nearly the same as it was when built in the 1890's. It stands as an example of a building type that is now nearly extinct and one that has been ignored by architectral and cultural historians.
Physically, the opera house buildings were usually major constructions in the center of town with a first floor of shops, and a grand two story theatre above. The most exciting part of these buildings architecturally was usually the theater area, which, as in the Earlville Opera House, was ornately decorated, displaying a sense of grandeur and gaiety rarely seen in rural villages.