Pilesgrove – Woodstown

Historical Society Newsletter

Number 05-2                                                                                       May 2005

The Woodstown Opera House

Opening day of the Woodstown Opera House was on Christmas evening in 1885. The Opera House was filled to capacity for the grand opening performance of “The Model Husband” and “The Debutante” produced by Kennedy’s Comedy Company from New York.

According to accounts in the January 1, 1886, edition of the Woodstown Monitor, “The performances fully equaled the expectations of the public and were financially satisfactory to the company”.   Ticket prices for the show were 10 and 20 cents for general admission and 30 cents for reserved seating.                             

The Opera House, was constructed in 1885, by Edward Bilderback Humphreys (1830 – 1905). Mr. Humphreys, was one of the most prominent merchants and real estate owners in Woodstown. Humphrey’s hired Mr. Edward Wallace to plan and supervise the construction of the two-story, brick structure at 13 West Avenue.

A story about the facility in the December 25, 1885 issue of The Monitor, describes the theatre as follows “The auditorium is handsomely frescoed, the ceiling being laid off in panels and circles, the center representing the sky spangled with stars. The walls are dark red and the windows are draped with heavy curtains that impart a rich finish to the room. The first eight rows of seats are handsomely upholstered and the remainder are natural wood”. The Opera House was on the second floor of the building. The first floor was used for storage and was the location of the dressing rooms for the performers.

 

 

Minstrel shows were the most popular attractions during the early history of the Opera House. Groups such as Margaret Marion’s Famous Lady Minstrels, DeRue Brothers Ideal Minstrel Co., High Henry Minstrels and the DuMont Minstrels all appeared at the OperaHouse.

From 1910 through 1920, vaudeville acts were popular crowd pleasers and the first movies were shown beginning in 1905. During the silent movie era, local musicians were hired to play the piano and violin and 15 – 20 kids would stand behind the screen to make the proper sound effects, using coconut shells for horses hoofs and the like. The first “talkies” came to Woodstown in about 1933 and a second projector was added to eliminate the need to stop the picture and turn on the lights to change reels.

 

In addition to the professional performers, the Woodstown Chamber of Commerce produced its own minstrel shows using local talent for the players and musicians. The Woodstown High School used the facility for school plays and graduation exercises until the new school auditorium was completed in time for the graduation of the Class of 1916.

The Woodstown National Bank rented the first floor of the Opera House until its new building in 1923. The Post Office took over the space and remained there until it moved to its present location on East Avenue in 1956.

 

 

At 2:00 am on April 27, 1939, a fire destroyed the interior of the building. By that time the auditorium was being used only as a movie theatre.

In 1949 the Humphreys family proposed that the Opera House be used as the home of the Curtain Call Club, provided that the club would undertake the necessary repairs. The auditorium was not used again until December 1949, when the Curtain Call Club presented the melodrama “The Curse of An Aching Heart”.

From 1956 until 1961 the first floor was occupied by a Firestone tire store. The building was purchased from Mrs. Humphreys in 1961 by Mr. James Point.

Mr. Point converted the first floor into offices and allowed the Curtain Call Club to use the Opera House for an annual rent of one dollar. The end of the Opera House as an entertainment center came on the evening of May 9, 1964 with a performance of the “Lute Song” produced by The Curtain Call Club. 

In Memoriam

C. Donald Jess, a life member since 1988

Warren Hitchner, A life member since 1988, former owner of Hitchners Supply in Woodstown (now Matteo Family Kitchens). Donated the antique mantel above the fireplace in the library.

Calendar of Society Programs

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Business Meeting at Reliance Fire Company Hall at 7:30 PM

Program at 8:00 PM

The blueberry has its roots in the Pinelands of New Jersey. Learn why the blueberry is touted as the wonder fruit with a host of healthful benefits and hear about the variety of ways to prepare and savor these berries. Food Historian, Judith Krall -Russo, will present tonight’s program. 

Hosts and Hostesses: Marian Aldrich, Connie Rosenberger and Bob Brooks

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Business Meeting at Reliance Fire Company Hall at 7:30 PM

Program at 8:00 PM

New Jersey in the American Revolution. Presented by Arthur S. Lefkowitz. This 50 minute slide presentation is based on Mr. Lefkowitz’s book “The Long Retreat”. This program focuses on the British invasion of New Jersey in late 1776, which ended with Washington’s famous Christmas night raid on Trenton.

Hosts and Hostesses: Cheryl Valente, Libby Myers, Kenny Mack and Frank Stubbins

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Business Meeting at the Woodstown Presbyterian Church Hall

46 Auburn Road, Woodstown

Program at 8:00 PM

The parishioners will present tonight’s program on the history of the Presbyterian Church in Woodstown.

Hosts and Hostesses: Ann Tatnall, Sue Allen and Chick Harrison

Acquisitions

Gift from David Beswell.

The fiftieth anniversary program for the Woodstown Opera House.

Gift from Jacqueline B. Zane.

Tax receipts and will from Sharptown, circa 1909.

Marriage certificate of William Hewitt to Rachel Penton in 1848.

Hair sample, Miller prescription, Christmas cards, newspaper clippings.

Pattern for a shirt collar.

Gift from Letitica Camp.

                Xerox copy of a pamphlet from the Cultural Olympics.

Gift form Elizabeth Myers.

                Xerox copies of pictures and articles from the 1901 to 1921 Almanac and Yearbook.

Gift from William E. Garwood.

                Memorabilia from the Woodstown Civic Orchestra.

                Article about Rural USA, Woodstown in the 1930’s.

Gift from Doris Williams.

                Pictures from Winfield Mills, owner of barbershop on West Ave.

                Woodstown Veterans of WW II graduating from Woodstown High School.

Gift from Trish DeCinqua.

                Picture of Helen Pettit Thompson, graduate of Eldridges Hill School.

                Photograph of a football team playing in Woodstown, circa 1930.

                Class reunion picture of Helen Pettit Thompson, circa 1923.

Gift from the estate of David Fogg.

                Assorted bills and invoices from 1910 to 1930.

Gift from Frank Stubbins.

                Two pictures of the center of Woodstown, The Humphries Building, the Pantaloon Factory and

                The Opera House.

Pilesgrove – Woodstown Historical Society

42 North Main Street

Woodstown, New Jersey 08098

Phone 856-769-4588

Museum Hours: Saturday 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM

Officers for 2005

President                                                               William Aldrich

Vice President                                                       Frank Stubbins

Recording Secretary                                            Janet Turin

Corresponding Secretary                                    Marie Haaf

Membership                                                          Sue Allen

Treasurer                                                               Deb Tierno

Trustees

Marian Aldrich                                                     2005

Connie Rosenberger                                            2005

Ann Tatnall                                                           2005

Howard Riegel                                                      2006

Robert Brooks                                                      2006

Charles Harrison                                                  2006

Kenny Mack                                                         2007

Elizabeth Myers                                                   2007

Cheryl Valente                                                      2007

Membership

Annual Dues                                                        $20.00

Family Membership                                             $25.00

Individual Life Membership                               $200.00

Sponsor                                                                 $50.00

Please call Mrs. Sue Allen at 769-1147 for membership applications, cards and membership information.

Pilesgrove – Woodstown Historical Society

201 North Main Street

Woodstown, New Jersey 08098