The Jamestown Opera House, constructed in 1889 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2007, served as town hall, fire station, commercial space and library for over 100 years. In its early years it was the setting for dramatic presentations, traveling minstrel shows, concerts, graduations, and movies—starting with silent films. In the 20th century the Opera House continued as a public hall and government center until those offices and the library moved into new space in 1997.
Around that same time, devastating fires in Jamestown’s historic center destroyed several historic buildings giving a heightened sense of urgency to preservation of the Opera House. A midst rumors the building might be razed, 14 concerned citizens reorganized the Jamestown Area Historical Society around the goal of saving the Opera House.
Owned jointly by Silvercreek Township and the Village of Jamestown,the Village donated its share to the township and the historical society signed a lease to demonstrate its commitment to saving the building. This close partnership became the driving force behind the rehabilitation.
Rehabilitation was a massive undertaking since much of the upper level of the building had been unoccupied for more than 60 years with little maintenance. The roof was open to the weather in places. Plaster had sloughed off the walls, most of the upper windows were rotted beyond repair, and the flooring was severely damaged. The building would require all new mechanical systems and needed to be made accessible.
This building was in dire condition but what it had going for it was a highly dedicated group of citizens and local government officials, who rallied support, secured dollars, time, materials, expertise and hard work from a myriad of individuals, businesses, and public agencies.
The building was completely rehabbed from top to bottom, inside and out. Roof, masonry,windows, walls, floor, doors, trim decorative features—you name it—everything was carefully repaired as much as possible or replaced with features to match the original. This included repairing extensive stained glass work, the stage orchestra pit and balcony, and the few original auditorium seats that could be saved.
In addition to overwhelming community support for the project spearheaded by the Jamestown Area Historical Society, the Greene County Commissioners allocated its Director of County Services to serve as project manager. The sheriff's Inmate Work Release Program was also utilized.
The building and project have already inspired a new generation of Jamestown residents as students tour the Opera House and have the opportunity to perform there. The Jamestown Opera House project is a true grass roots endeavor, demonstrating what is possible when a community comes together around its historic buildings.
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Click here for a list of past State Historic Preservation Office Award recipients.