Way Back When ... 1890
Published 12:00 am, Monday, September 26, 2016
The Nichols Opera House was built between March and December 1890, named for G. Duff Nichols, according to the New Canaan Historical Society. After coming to New Canaan in the late 1870s, Nichols had served as “town auditor, school visitor, special constable, on the Board of Relief & Board of Education, justice of the peace” and he had been involved in numerous local factories, real estate, and insurance. The plans for the Opera House were drawn up by Prof. Edward D. Lindsay, and Nichols convinced Lindsay to give them to him for free.
The Opera House itself had an auditorium with a capacity of 850 people, a stage measuring 40 by 25 feet and with drop curtains depicting “Sheridan’s Ride”, a street scene, and a woodland view. On the second floor of the opera house was a “handsome lodge room” and the basement had dressing rooms, a banquet hall, a kitchen, a store, and three jail cells. The store was at times a town clerk’s office, town treasurer’s office, selectmen’s office, and sometimes even a courtroom.
The Opera House never actually showed any “operas,” but it did provide New Canaan with an auditorium for local events, graduations, theater performances, and minstrel shows. For a few years after Nichols’ sudden death in 1902, the Opera House was renamed “Hoyt’s Opera House,” but then in 1904 the name was changed again to the New Canaan Opera House. At this time, the New Canaan Opera House began being used as a “motion picture theater”; the first movie show was “The Great Train Robbery” on Feb. 2, 1904. In 1915, the name was changed to the Colonial Theater, and a different film was shown each day for 10 cents per person. With the exception of the time period during World War I, the movie theater operated until 1923, when the New Canaan Playhouse opened on Elm Street.
Following the opening of the New Canaan Playhouse, the Civic League bought the building and renamed it Village Hall. For the next 10 years, it was used for basketball games, rollerskating, gym classes, dancing, women’s club meetings, etc. However, none of these activities could help sustain the Village Hall’s operation. Eventually the building went vacant and the Rosen brothers (Leo & William) purchased the building and had it razed in 1937. The Rosen brothers then built a one-story, two store structure on the site and moved the grocery business of F. Ferrera to the new site in October 1940. Their grocery business continued until October 1986.
The year the Nichols Opera House was built on Elm Street in New Canaan.