Woodward Opera House, Mount Vernon Ohio
The Struble Building is an as example of a mid-nineteenth-century commercial building and opera house. The building was constructed in all probability in the year 1851 following the lease on May 31, 1851, to Ebenezer G. Woodward of a piece of ground nine inches in width for a "good and substantial fire wall" to stand next to a building to be erected. The brick building was apparently completed the following year.
The Opera House opened to the public on May 17, 1853, when a Professor Janton lectured on Phrenology and Physiology. The first opera to use the facility was in August of the same year when Sullivan's Sylvanium Opera Troupe presented "Mr. and Mrs. Chipp". Throughout the years, other troupes presented a great variety of shows, "Uncle Tom's Cabin", "Al Fields Minstrels", "Ossian's Bards'' with their chaste and fashionable chamber music to the later troupes of "strippers" from Chicago dressed in tights from head to toe.
Just prior to his death, Mount Vernon's Daniel Decatur Emmet (born and buried locally) appeared with reluctance at one of the Al Field's minstrel shows in the Opera House that had heard so many of his musical compositions. Emmett is credited with having created minstrelsy and its music, one of the unique musical forms ever created in this country. Of the many songs written by him including "Old Dan Tucker", "Blue Tail Fly" and many others, none became better known than "Dixie", one of the great songs of the Civil War.
In about 1880, Dr. Semple opened a dental office on the second floor of the building. Many stories exist of the rescue of his patients out the window because of the inability to open his office door due to the sag from the floor above under heavy crowds. Local history gives Dr. Semple credit for filing the original patent for chewing gum.
At about the same time, the offices of the Mount Vernon Democratic Banner moved to the building, where William Dunbar published his weekly. The most notable change occurred when the well-known conservative western publisher of the "Pittsburgh Post" moved to the area and bought the paper.
The future of the building, with the blessing of the heirs, is to recycle the second floor as an art guild hall and the opera hall above into a Hall of Fame for minstrelsy and its music.
The Struble building was built in the year 1851-52. It appears as a red-painted brick building, four stories high and measuring 45' x 132'. At the top, a wide, white bracketed cornice decorates the front, corners and side of the building. The flat roof has twelve chimneys. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th-floor windows on the east and to the front on the north have rectangular hood molds. To the rear of the Vine Street entrance, all of the windows are arched and feature a more decorative trim. These arched windows at the rear mark the area where the stage is. All the windows of the top three floors were double hung sash but today those on the two top floors have been removed and boarded. The undistinguished appearance belies its past history when, as a landmark for the area and with reputed acoustics of great excellence, it served as a prominent center for entertainment. The Opera House was last used as an Ohio Guard drill hall when it was closed for general use in 1925.
The ground floor has always maintained a men's clothing store from the first occupancy to the present. On the rear corner was the town barber shop with a public bath tub available. The barber shop exists today but the old tub has bowed to progress. The second floor was entered from both Main and Vine with access to the ticket office and broad stair to the lobby above. Other rooms contained the offices of the newspaper and dentist, but they have been unoccupied in recent years.
The third and fourth stories provide the center of interest in the building. Here the famous Woodward Hall, later called the Woodward Opera House, offered plays, lectures, minstrel and vaudeville shows. The theatre is large and impressive.
The main floor (third) contains a lobby at the head of the stair with a reception room on the front. Entering the main floor, the columns supporting the balcony overhead are apparent. The elaborately decorated red balcony and rail across the rear have two wings extending along the sides toward the proscenium stage.
At either side of the stage and above the entrances back-stage, hang two large paintings, "Midday" and "Twilight" by F. Armbruster of Columbus, Ohio. Proceeding to the stage by either of the short stairs on the side, one notes a trapdoor center stage, the large freight door over the alley to the rear for hoisting scenery and the occasional donkey required for the show, and the stair to the small dressing and makeup rooms on the floor below.
Today the theatre floor and balcony are empty. Some of the original wallpaper and painted stencils still remain. Above the center of the opera seating area, the ceiling still features a circular gessoed decoration with sculptured stars and musical instruments. The blue background with the gold stars frame a harp, banjo, fiddle, and horn.