Hopkinsville Museum Shares Latest Historical Article for "Snapshots in Time" Column
The Museums of Historic Hopkinsville-Christian County's executive director Alissa Keller regularly features local historical artifacts for a Hoptown Chronicle column titled "Snapshots in Time." Keller speaks with Austin Carter about her latest featured item, a set of 18 steel, tin-faced letters from the recently demolished Holland's Opera House, built in 1882.
Holland's Opera House was the successor to Mozart Hall, built in the mid-1800s. After Mozart Hall burnt down, R.H. Holland built the three-story brick opera house. Keller explains that the first floor was sectioned off for various businesses over the years, including a tailor, drugstore, and pool room. The second and third floors of the building were reserved for the theatre.
Holland, Keller says, "was commonly known as Uncle Dick Holland in his older years. I say older years because when he built the building, he was only 23 years old, which is kind of mind-blowing. Mr. Holland's history is somewhat tragic. He was born in 1858, and his mother died a year later. Then, his father died in 1867, so he was an orphan before he was ten years old. He was born outside of the city in the county but moved to Hopkinsville to live with an uncle and must've inherited his father's estate, which, based on the 1860 census, amounted to about 40,000 dollars. So, it was quite the estate for a ten-year-old."
"By the time he was 23, he was investing that in building an opera house in Hopkinsville. It would have done operas, yes, but it was fitted with numerous sets of scenery specifically for Shakespearean plays. They would've done local talent shows and productions; several commencement programs were there. There were traveling shows that came through — many were based on dramatizations of novels that would have been popular in the late 19th century but were traveling from New York and Chicago, bringing in train car loads full of scenery to add to what was already there and performing for crowds here."
Holland's Opera House operated from September 22, 1882, to around the 1920s. It was the first venue to show a moving picture in Hopkinsville, but once other film venues began popping up around town, the opera house's business suffered. After Holland passed away in 1930, the theatre space was divided into offices where insurance agencies, realtors, and women's clothing businesses operated. In the mid-1950s, the first two women to be medical doctors in Hopkinsville, Drs. Norma Shepherd and Rachel Croft operated their practices out of the opera house.
In 1967, Keller continues, "a beam on the very top of the third floor failed and crashed down and landed on the deck of a broadcast company. The Pennyrile Broadcasting Association and radio station WKLA were broadcasting from the second floor. The beam comes through on a Sunday; there were only a couple of guys working at the radio station. No one was hurt, thankfully, but the building was not ever repaired completely after that. They took the third floor off after the 1967 roof failure, and it stood as a two-story building on Main Street. Over time, it's been vacant — for ten years, all told — and it's gotten into pretty rough shape. The decision was made to tear it down just within the past month."
Keller says she's a "preservationist at heart" but that the opera house "had gotten into pretty bad shape. It's important for buildings to have a function and for someone to be in them, working in them and using them every day. Our museum is in an old building. We're in the historic post office building downtown. It's great; it's a beautiful building. We've done a big renovation in the last couple of years. But it's a different animal than a brand new building."
"I'd say, overwhelmingly, they're built incredibly well. But they've withstood a lot by now. I think it's a good thing for our community to have this historic streetscape. I think it gives us a sense of place, a sense of belonging, a sense of uniqueness of what makes Hopkinsville look and feel different from anywhere else. It gives us a sense of home," Keller concludes.