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It was 1884, and America was leasing the way with great new innovations. The Statue of Liberty was brought to America from France and placed on her pedestal in the New York harbor, long distance telephone communication was established between Boston and New York for the very first time, the first skyscraper was built in the city of Chicago, and author, Mark Twain wrote "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."
In Newcomerstown, Ohio, village officials approved the construction of the Municipal Building/ Opera House at a cost of $12,000. The original floor plan included the village fire department, police station, jail, and a banquet hall on the first level. The Mayor's office, council chambers, and the Opera House would occupy the second level. The building contained a front, and back staircase, as well as an outside fire escape leading from the second level to an alley-way on the east side of the building. A cupola was located above the second level, and was used for seating of "special VIP guests" attending events at the Opera House. The cupola seating contained the best seats in the house. The price of tickets for the cupola seats was considerably higher than the cost of seating on the second level. The Opera House boasted a 22x44 foot stage, and seating capacity for 500 persons. The original Municipal Building/ Opera House was constructed on Church Street at the site of the present Newcomerstown Municipal Building.
The Opera House quickly brought many exciting, popular shows, music recitals, and plays, both comedy and drama, to Newcomerstown shortly after opening to the public. The John Phillip Sousa Band played at the dedication ceremony when the Opera House opened. The cost (to the Opera House management) for the Sousa Band to appear at the Opera House was $2000. The event was reported as spectacular, and seats were sold out. All attractions at the Opera House were booked by Redpath Lyceum Bureau, a national booking agency with offices located in Chicago, and Boston. The last show at the Opera House was booked in 1917.
Newcomerstown native, Normal Bel Geddes, who later became a Hollywood stage designer, attended shows at the Opera House as a youth. Bel Geddes most likely attained some of his later set design ideas from seeing some of the spectacular sets that were used at the Opera House.
Many patrons came from neighboring towns, even bigger cities, to attend some of the shows, and plays as the events were highly publicized and were sought after by the public at that time. One of the popular plays was The Farmer's Daughter which included a frightful scene where the daughter was tied up by a villain and put on a conveyor belt heading towards a large saw blade (a real saw and blade was utilized to create the authenticity)! At the last minute a hero rescued her each time. The saw blade scene was very popular with the audience, and caused quite a stir. No accidents ever occurred. The show ran for several weeks by popular demand.
In July 1907, a large scale musical performance was held titled, College Festival. The show featured over one hundred-fifty of Newcomerstown's own citizens as the players. The Hyperion Orchestra provided the music. The cost of admission was 25 cents, and 35 cents was required for reserved seating. Tickets were available at the H.H. Eagon Drug Store on Main Street (formerly located next door to the Newcomerstown News office).
For many years the high school graduation ceremonies took place in the Opera House as the high school building (located at the site of the current East Elementary School) at that time had no auditorium. In 1924, a new high school building (now the Middle School) was constructed, and the new auditorium was used from that time until 1968 for the NHS graduation ceremonies. From the mid 1920s to the early 1940s, the Opera House was utilized less, and less, and eventually fell into disrepair by 1945.
In November 1946, the village approved for the Municipal Building to have a complete over haul. The Wendling Brothers, a construction contractor from Dover, Ohio began the $32,000 project, financed from village bonds. The original Opera House roof was removed, and the building's second level height was reduced. Rooms inside the structure were added, some walls removed. New walls, new staircase, new windows, doors, and a buff colored brick exterior was added. On May 12, 1948 village officials, and employees moved into the new Municipal Building.
The Municipal Building continues to be utilized by the village, and has had multiple upgrades over the past seventy years since the 1946 update project took place.