In 1850, when the first north-south railroad line was about to open in Mount Vernon, a local entrepreneur leased land on the corner of South Main and West Vine Streets. There Dr. Ebenezer Woodward built a four story building with a theater on the top floor which in time would become the Woodward Opera House. Woodward Hall opened in 1851 and was an immediate success. Citizens had access to new forms of entertainment, local and traveling. In this pre-telephone, pre-electric, pre-central heating era, the theater was regularly used for speeches, political meetings, and special events.
So successful was Woodward Hall that in the late 1870s, it was enlarged to encompass the third floor of the building and to building behind it. This larger performance space accommodated 700-800 people and larger professional entertainment groups from as far away as New York City performed. Musicians, comedic, legitimate theater, and minstrel troops regularly visited the Woodward. One notable regular, Al Field's Minstrel Company, was to immortalize Mount Vernon's native son, Dan Emmett. Daniel Decatur Emmett, the author of "Dixie," regularly performed at the Woodward, giving his last performance there in 1902 two years before his death.
With the advent of moving pictures (the first shown in Mount Vernon was at the Woodward in 1897) and competing first floor theaters, the theater gradually became a less attractive venue. Fortunately the 19th century appearance of the Woodward Opera House was never compromised. For this reason it is justifiably called America's Oldest Authentic 19th Century Theater.
Today, the Woodward Opera House is being restored to its 19th century appearance but with all the 21st century amenities required for operating a theater.
Tours of the Woodward Opera House are available during the Dan Emmett Music & Arts Festival, First Fridays events, and Mount Vernon’s Christmas Walk. Special group tours may be arranged by calling 1-800-837-5282 or (740) 392-6102. For current information on the project or to contact us, visit our website, www.TheWoodward.org.