Davis Opera House was Findlay’s first entertainment center

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.

 

By R.L. HEMINGER

 

The historical account of Findlay’s theaters, built originally for live entertainment only, really starts with the construction of the old Davis Opera House, on South Main Street. It opened on Thanksgiving evening, in 1876.

Over the last few months, we have been telling the story of Findlay’s other theaters of the live entertainment variety. We started with these because of the extensive data available on them from the records of (the late) Don Smith, 326 Osborn Ave., who has read the files of the old Morning Republican to obtain such information, starting with the Republican’s first daily issue in 1886, which was 10 years after the Davis opened its doors.

The Davis Opera House was located at 212-214 S. Main St. Store rooms on South Main at these addresses are now (1970) occupied by the Sherwin-Williams Paint Co. and the Bindel’s Appliance Center.

The opening theatrical production was the familiar “East Lynne,” which was a stage favorite for a good many years. Until the Turner Opera House opened in 1890 on West Main Cross Street, the Davis was Findlay’s only theater. It was the scene of many stage productions.

The Davis Opera House had its greatest business in the late 1880s when the oil and gas boom was at its height in the local community. Findlay’s population had almost quadrupled and the Davis Opera House, with its stage attractions, offered the only entertainment of that nature for some time.

The Davis Opera House continue in business on an active basis down through the remaining years of the 19th century. The opening of the Marvin in 1893 saw the Davis start downward in popularity as competition made its inroads on attendance. By early in the 1900s, it was in its last days.

The auditorium portion of the Davis was eventually transformed into apartments. Some evidences of the old theater are still to be seen within the building.

The stage was still in existence in the initial decade of the 20th century. Girls of Findlay High School wanted some gymnasium facilities comparable to what the boys had at the YMCA, and the stage was rented and physical culture classes conducted thereon, in charge of one of the high school teachers for a few years.

Advertisements of the attractions at the Davis are found in the old Findlay newspapers and prove very interesting. In 1885, one of the attractions was “Galley Slave.” The newspaper advertisement described it as “Bartley Campbell’s master work,” interpreted by an organization of dramatic magnitude. The advertisement also spoke of “beautiful stage settings,” “magnificent wardrobes” and “artistic acting.” Popular prices, amounting to 50 and 35 cents prevailed. “No extra charge for reserved seats, on sale at Frey’s Drug Store,” concluded the advertisement.

A.C. Heck was the manager of the Davis at the time “Galley Slave” appeared. Mr. Heck in later years became head of the Heck and Marvin Co., which later added the name of “Van Buren” and constituted the early manufacturers of ditching machines here as the forerunner of the Buckeye Traction Ditcher Co.

Appearing at the Davis in the early 1880s were some of the survivors of the well-known exploit of the Andrews Raiders who stole the locomotive and train on a southern railroad in the Civil War, seeking to disrupt the railroad transportation system of the south. Hancock County furnished more men for the raid than any other. They held a reunion at McComb a decade or so after the event and came to Findlay to tell their fascinating story on the stage of the Davis Opera House before a large audience.

William L. Davis, one of the builders of the Davis, was the father of the late Mrs. Ralph D. Cole Sr. and grandfather of (the late) Judge Ralph D. Cole Jr.

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