Thursday, December 10, 2015

What was brand spanking new in December 1872

I decided to look back as December advances more than 140 years to December of 1872 and take a closer look at what was going on in Chariton during that long-ago season. The year was chosen because The Chariton Patriot, in its edition of Jan. 1, 1873, published a remarkably detailed account of all construction undertaken in the city during the preceding 12 months.

1872 was the year two landmark buildings --- both long gone --- were constructed: The Mallory Opera Block and the C.B.&Q. Depot House depot and hotel.

I'll republish that account in a couple of installments (it is very long), interspersed with more seasonal items from Patriot editions published during December. 

So here's the beginning of the Jan. 1, 1873, piece --- describing in detail Mallory's Opera Block as it was nearing completion. Although the building still was incomplete, the Odd Fellows already had moved into their new quarters on its third floor and the Sawtelle theatrical troupe already had performed in the Opera Hall itself.

The Opera Block, which quickly became the center of social life in Chariton, lasted only 32 years. The author of The Patriot piece mentioned the "fire fiend" as a potential threat --- and the block as well as two buildings to its south did indeed burn during the early morning of Jan. 4, 1904. You can read about that fire, if you like, here.

The four graceful North Main Street buildings that still fill the north end of the west side of the square today --- commencing with the Lockwood Building (Fifth Mile) and concluding with the Hollinger & Larimer Building (Chariton Vision Center) --- replaced the burned structures during the year that followed and all were ready for occupancy by the Christmas season of 1904.

The photograph at the top, taken not long after Opera Hall construction was complete, is from the Chariton Free Public Library collection. The battered second photo was taken during a circus parade not long before 1900, and shows that end of the block as it would have looked when the great 1904 fire broke out. It is from the Lucas County Historical Society collection

Its Improvements for the Past Year and Future Prespects
$115,000 Expended
The Chariton Patriot, Jan. 1, 1873

Last week we promised our readers to give in this issue a list of the improvements of Chariton for the past year, and we now proceed to mention them as far as we have been able to ascertain, and of course the first in order will be


This edifice is situated on the north-west corner of the square, facing east, on the lots formerly owned by C.W. Coles, having been purchased last spring as a site for the building. It was commenced in August, and although not yet completed, is far enough along to enable us to see what it will be when done.

Its size is 82 feet front, by 74 feet deep. It is substantially built of brick (burned near here by Jones & Payne) upon a stone foundation, from two to three feet thick, so that we may expect it to stand as an ornament to our town for many years, unless the fire fiend should light upon it in the fury that it is capable of as shown by the recent conflagrations in many of our cities.

The building is three stories in front, and two in the rear. The large Hall or Opera Room which extends across the back part, being as high as the two upper stories in front, except the fall required for the roof, which slopes to the rear. The first floor is equally divided into four capacious store rooms, each being a little over by 20 feet by 74 and 14 feet high. The corner room will be occupied by Braden & Co., who will fill it with dry goods, &tc., making a store second to none west of Burlington.

A broad stairway goes up in the center of the front and lands in a hall running across the building, and dividing the Opera Room from a row of offices at the front. The Public Hall is 44 feet wide by 82 long and 20 high, about 20 feet off the south end, however, being taken up with the stage, which is built in the usual manner, and well provided with both gentlemen's and ladies' dressing rooms. The Hall is heated by means of a furnace placed in the cellar, which we will add, is also intended to warm two of the store rooms. It is well ventilated by means of flues for that purpose, and is lighted during the day by 9 windows, each 12 feet in height, and by night, by a suitable number of lamps on two large chandeliers suspended from the ceiling. It is at present only plastered, but will soon be frescoed in the best style. In short it is a large comfortable room, and will compare favorably with any auditorium in the State.

It will be seated with 400 of the best office arm chairs, which are being furnished by Alexander & Co., of this place. The scenery and drop curtain have been prepared by J.A. Sawtelle, of Sawtelle's Constellation, who has shown himself as good with the brush as he is representing the various characters in which he so successfully appears. In painting the drop curtains, beauty and utility have both been consulted, as it contains in a great variety of colors and styles of letters, the business cards of some 25 or 30 of our enterprising business and professional men, and is in itself a novelty worth the price of admission to a first class performance to see.

The third story has been prepared for the Odd Fellows Lodge and consists of a hall 30x48 feet and 14 feet high, a parlor 13x29, an anteroom 15x16, and still another room 7x20 altogether constituting excellent quarters for this organization.

The roof is of tin plate furnished and put on by T.E. Palmer & Son, and is intended to be fire proof.

Externally the building presents a fine appearance, the windows being furnished with beautiful arches of terracotta, and the eaves adorned by a heavy protjecting cornice, sustained by brackets, and this finish rising in a dome-like curve in the center, on the front on which is to be placed a flag staff intended to bear aloft the stars and stripes when occasion presents. In this curve are the words, "Mallory's Opera Block" in raised stone letters. Below, the front is of iron after the fashion in our large cities and the glass for the store windows has been ordered from Paris, and is to be of the best French plate. Size 5 feet 4 inches by 10 feet 8 inches, so that but two panes will be required for each store, one on each side of the door. These glass will cost about $125 per pane.

The work on the building was done by the day under the superivision of Mr. M. Riser for the wood portion, and G. B. Routt for the masonry.

The whole constitutes a fine structure that is a credit to the town, and a monument to the public spirit of Mr. Mallory. Cost about $30,000.

To be continued

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