History of the Abbeville
Opera House from their program.
At the turn of this
century there were many "road companies" producing shows in
New York City. Once the production was assembled, the show traveled
throughout the country. One of the more popular tours went from New
York to Richmond, Virginia to Atlanta. For a number of years, Abbeville
was an overnight stop for the entire touring company. Several members
of the community decided that if this area had a facility, since the
traveling companies were coming through here anyway, Abbeville could
sponsor some of these touring productions.
On October 1,1908, what was then the Abbeville District dedicated a
new Court House and City Hall. The grand old theatre now known as the
Abbeville Opera House was a part of that splendid pair of buildings,
"equal in beauty of architecture and modern conveniences of any
in the state," according to regional newspaper accounts of the
day. Some months later the great stage - 7500 square feet with its wonderful
fly loft, cat walk and auditorium - was officially used for its intended
purpose. The show was called "The Great Divide" and it was
a gala occasion that set the entire area buzzing with excitement.
From that time on, all the "greats and near-greats" played
on the magnificent Opera House stage. The Ziegfeld FOLLIES, George White's
SCANDALS, Jimmy Durante, Sarah Bernhardt, QUO VADIS, BEN HUR, and many
other memorable productions and performers were presented as the big
road shows moved down the eastern seaboard. Vaudeville was in its "heyday"
as was the Abbeville Opera House.
As the road shows began to fade, the silent movies moved in. These early
motion pictures carried full crews of musicians and sound effects men.
They were impressive and still carried the awe of "live" show
business. Then came THE JAZZ SINGER and the "talkies" came
to the Opera House. But the old lustre was gone. Vaudeville was dying
and the theatre was changing. Concurrently, Abbeville's influence as
a cultural center faded. The Opera House was converted into a movie
theater and the films became more and more automated.
It remained a movie theater until the late 1950s. With the decline of
movies, even the once grand "movie house" degenerated, lost
money and finally closed. The Abbeville Community Theatre had long wanted
a home of its own, so in 1968 mounted a community-wide campaign as the
first step in restoring this grand old theatre. Since then many people
have taken part in the effort to keep the Opera House open and in good
In 1978, with the increase of tourism in this region, the Opera House
began a Summer Theatre Season. A professional touring theatre company
established residence at the Opera House that year - the first since
1917. Since then the professional summer stock season has gained recognition
throughout the southeast. The winter and summer seasons combined produce
over 36 weeks of live theatre a year. Once again, this "grand old
lady" is being used for it's original and intended purpose - to
house live theatre.
Abbeville Opera House"