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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Lucky Girl in Stoughton

You know my theory that you just have to go inside and see what you might find, right?  Well, I hit pay dirt on Tuesday when I stopped in the town of Stoughton, Wisconsin.  I rolled into town to check out the post office mural (don't worry, I'll show it on Monday) on my way to Madison and caught a glimpse of this building.  I was parked just a block away, so I headed up the street.  That clock tower called to me.

The building is City Hall, but it also houses the Stoughton Opera House.  Built in 1901, it also held the library.  In 1982 this building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  I saw a marquee for the Opera House outside, but ducked in to see the interior of City Hall.  Nothing of note, except a man in the hallway at the bottom of a staircase who asked me if I was there to see the Opera House.  My reply was, Well, I guess I am now!

The color when you walk in is just overwhelming.  Everything glowed.  I could picture the box and balcony seats filled with community members out for an evening of entertainment.  Everything from operas and concerts to fiddlers' contests and political rallies were held here.

I had made the offhand comment to Bill on my way up the stairs that I was a fan of architecture as well as paintings and other items of historical interest.  Bill said he had something special to show me.

The original asbestos fire curtain had been restored, including the mechanisms for raising and lowering it.  Lucky girl?  I sure think so.

By the 1950's the Opera House was extensively damaged by water damage from leaky roofs and it was shut down.  However, in the 1980's it was decided that it was worth saving the building instead of erecting a new City Hall.  Public funds were used to restore that section, but donations were used to restore the clock tower and the Opera House.  At first occupancy was still limited due to fire escape route concerns, but that was eventually addressed and by 1992 central heating and air conditioning were even added.

As the money kept coming in more work was done, including the incredible replastering and painting job of the wall.  Special techniques were used to determine the original designs under the layers of paint, and gold leaf fleur de lis adorn the walls.  Over the years almost $600,000 in restoration work has been done, every penny well spent in my opinion.

The wood stage is made from Southern Yellow Pine, and the orchestra pit was enclosed using the wood salvaged from another nearby building that was being thrown out.  Can you imagine throwing away such beautiful wood?  The seats are all original oak as well, and they look as if they were just installed a few years ago.  They don't make chairs that stand the test of time like that anymore, that's for sure.  The Opera House could seat 600 people when it opened.

High school class plays and commencements were held here for over fifty years, and playful graffiti adorns the backstage area.  The loft pictured above used to be the ladies dressing room. At some point space was discovered under the stage floor area and the dressing rooms are down there at this time.

The picture above shows one of the panels that used to hold the ticket stubs and had a slot for every seat in the house.  Now electrical components hide behind the panels, but I think it's great that they kept these items in the ticket booth when doing the restoration.

Up in the balcony, everything comes together.  One of the chandeliers originally was wired with both gas and electric because at the time of construction it was unsure whether electric was going to "catch on".  It's those kind of details that make history come alive for me.  Imagine a time when it was thought electric might be a fad!  The chandelier above the balcony is a replica.

As if all that wasn't cool enough, check out the original embossed tin ceiling!  Gorgeous.

Bill, the man upon whom sainthood would be placed if it were up to me, then asked me if I wanted to see the clock tower.  Um, yes please!  Bill himself is a little leery of heights so he let me ascend the ladder through the trap door by myself.  

The clock tower was removed in 1961 but in the 1980's it also was renovated.  I was standing in the area where the bell and the windows are located, which is the original stone, everything above that is part of the renovation and is new.  I especially liked the jaunty red color.

Special thanks to Bill, one of the best tour guides I've ever had anywhere, for letting me into his world for a half hour. I might have felt like the lucky girl, but he's lucky as well to be able to spend time in such a special place.  Any inaccuracies in this post are my fault and not his.

 The Stoughton Opera House is open for performances, just follow their link here.  I'm adding it to my list of things to do myself!


  1. Money well spent indeed! Amazing.

  2. You were privileged that is a superb building and so well restored.

  3. Very cool and personal tour. Loved the fire curtain.