The Old "Opera House" on the Bentonville Square


Taken from J. Dickson Black's "History of Benton County"

"The old Opera House building which stood on the northeast corner of the square in Bentonville, was taken down in 1962 to make way for the Bank of Bentonville. (now Arvest - Larry)

The Opera building, as it was called for years, was built a year or so after the bad fire of the winter of 1880-81, which burned most of the north side of the square. But there is no date as to when it was built. "

The lot was originally sold by T.M. Duckworth to James Caldwell on April 3, 1849. It was just part of a trasaction in which Caldwell bought several hundred acres. in 1872, R. N. Corley sold this lot to J. D. Harston for $900, a price which would indicate that there was some kind of a building here then. A year later J. T. and C.R. Craig bought the lot.

Black says that he had been unable to find out who had the opera house built, but in talking to Jim Craig in 1960 he said that he could remember his father talking about having rented it for plays or programs at the time he and Jim's grandfather owned the place.

Col. Sam Peel owned the building in the late 1880's and it changed hands many times over the years.



"People in Bentonville saw all types of vaudeville and stage shows here. It is said that after the railroad came (1882) some of the best acts in the country stopped and made a one-night show here. Throughout the year there would be programs. As on the night of February 3, 1888 when there was a band benefit concert by Alex Black's band, a local group with other short acts to fill in. Alex Black's cornet solo of the Lauterback Waltz and a violin solo, The Last Rose of Summer...were highlights of the program that played to a full house. On August 31, 1892, Richards and Pringle brought their famous minstrel show here for a on-night stand. The Famous Georgias, as it was called, was the only legitimate all-colored minstrel show in the country." (please - Mr. Black's language, not mine!)

"The night of January 2, 1893 was a benefit night. The program was put on by the children and parents of the 'colored school.' They were raising money to repair the roof of the school. Price was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children, and this included a light lunch."

"Another highlight in the entertainment world here at the opera house was the political speeches. If the weather was bad they would hold the rally here. The oldtimers say that these old time politicians had a lot more wind and talked longer than a candidate does today.

In 1898, along came a new and different entertainment that was (known as) the Chautauqua era, and for a few years each summer you could hear a lecture, band music, singing, oratory, or amybe a little of each if you stayed for the whole program.

I (Black) found no one who could remember what the inside of the opera house was like at first. The building was two stories and there were two business rooms in the front at ground level. You went in from the front and upstairs. Some think that the inside was all balcony and it looked down at the stage that was in the back of the building..."

"Sometime around 1900 the building was remodeled. The upstairs had a stage a seats; the downstairs was made into a store. At one time Jackson's Grocery was here. In 1914, the Ozark Trails Garage moved in downstairsin place of the store, and it stayed here until about 1921. It was run by Ed. Pace and Clyde Adams.

The Mo-Hawk Dance Club was held here upstairs every Saturday night frm about 1911 to 1914. At that time there was a stairway outside the east side of the building. In 1914 the building was condemned and they stopped using the upstairs.

During World War I the US Government used the upstairs as an armory. The 142nd Field Artillery was stationed here for some time. they slept upstairs and drilled in the street in front of the building.

About 1922 the building was bought by M. J. Kilburn who had it rebuilt into a movie picture house. The entrance was again moved to the front of the building. The inside had a stage downstairs and seats down, as well as up in the balcony. There were two small rooms in the front that opened onto the street in front of the building. These were rented for small cafes or real estate offices. The big outside balcony was taken down and a marquee was put up. The building was used as a theater until a few years before it was taken down. The last few years before the building was razed, it was used only for storage."

Now me - this was one of four movie theaters that the town had at one time or another. If I remember correctly, this was known as the Royal. There was also the Cozy, which was in the spot where the Station Cafe is now. Then in the Blevins Building which was later Black's Clothing Store was originally the Meteor theater. Then when I was young it was the Plaza, which was (and is) still located on the corner of West Central and A.


                          The Plaza Theater - 273-2222 for those of you who remember


The Meteor Theater, on the left. About 1920.