By NECIA P. SEAMONS
Citizen staff writer
That Franklin County residents have always supported the arts is no question. Many notable performers and artists hail from the little communities that make up this corner of the state, such as Jason Rich, Tyler Castleton, Glen Edwards and Jared Hess. We have the Bennett Cup, the Dahle Arts Center and multiple dance groups.
In a prior generation, the Melody Weavers (Lillian Weaver, Regina Weaver and Tyra Hull) sang from Shanghai to Hawaii, throughout the states, and were courted by Hollywood.
So, it could be said that county residents have supported the arts almost religiously. Therein lies the interesting beginning of the community’s original house of the arts: the Opera House. Upon completion, the classically designed building served a dual purpose: center of arts and stake center. A stake is a unit of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
According to “The Oneida Stake: 100 years of LDS History in Southeast Idaho,” then president of the Oneida Stake, George C. Parkinson, and the rest of the audience at an 1892 presentation of “Knobs Will Turn Him Out,” were so intensely impressed at the production, that Parkinson got up after the play and gave a short speech suggesting that a building was needed to house such productions, and that local talent warranted such an undertaking.
Six years later, articles of incorporation were filed naming the group that would construct the building. However, it wasn’t until a second set of articles were filed in 1905, that work began on a large white brick structure on the west side of the lot where the Preston South Stake Center currently stands on First South, in Preston.
To build it, directors George C. Parkinson, John Gooch, S.C. Chadwick, John Johnson and A.W. Hart incorporated for $25,000, with $10,000 worth of stock. The largest stockholders were the four local wards of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Recollections of a Carl Warrick in 1965, recorded in “The Trail Blazer,” state that the rock for the building was taken from the George Wanner quarry on the Cub River on bob sleighs over snow four feet deep.
“Frank Pratt was foreman. We just made one trip a day with three teams of good horses. The rock masons were John Nuffer (head mason of the Oneida Stake Academy building) and a Mr. Peterson. I don’t remember his first name, but they sure knew their stuff about cutting rock as one could see by the way the foundation was put together. I was one of the carpenters when we put the new hardwood floor in the Opera House. That was in the WPA times. I have had a lot of fun in the old Opera House…”
Joy Dougherty, daughter of the aforementioned Tyra Hull, said she remembers her mother telling her about performing in plays written by Jennie Weaver Holt in the Opera House.
The building was one large room except for the stage and dressing rooms at the north end, and a large balcony at the south end. The floor was set on springs, making it an ideal dance floor. Folding chairs were used for audiences.
Upon its opening in 1905, the building was heavily used for stake conferences, town meetings, high school graduation exercises and all manner of artistic purposes. Operas, plays, high school operettas, lectures and recitals rang out from the stage and matinee dances for youth and evening dances for teens and adults filled the floor. Even professional boxing matches were hosted within the Opera House/ Oneida Stake center’s halls. The Walter Kilshaw Barton Family History states that when Barton passed away in 1937, the Opera House was filled to capacity for his funeral.
In 1940, the building was remodeled into a recreational center. And in 1956, it became the temporary headquarters for the National Guard Unit.
By 1962, the building had fallen out of use and into disrepair. The City of Preston was convinced to take possession of the building and tear it down, which it did, in 1965.
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