A proud history
In the 1890's the Franklin, NH town leaders focused their attention on quality of life issues for their vibrant, vital, successful community. By 1892 they had planned and started construction of a new town and Soldier's Memorial Hall. Designed by William Butterfield in the Romanesque Revival style, the red granite and brick building included Town offices, the police and water departments, the city court, a theatre and function hall.
It was soon affectionately referred to as "The Opera House."
The term "Opera", in the late 1890's was commonly used to refer to many forms of musical and theatrical entertainment. Small "Opera" Houses like the Franklin Opera House, although not large enough to host a full-scale Opera Company, accommodated many smaller performances as well as individual Opera singers.
Immediately after its opening and for the next 50 years, the Franklin Opera House became a venue for balls, dances, lectures, plays, musicals, vaudeville shows, concerts, school productions and graduation ceremonies.
During the Depression, the Opera House provided social programs for the community and was a place for unemployed men to gather for games activities. In the basement, there was even a miniature golf course from 1930-1931.
During World War II, programs of the Red Cross were offered there, as were other special, inventive programs. The auditorium was transformed into a basketball court for exhibition games, and utilized as a venue for wrestling.
After World War II, as the country began to tune into television and respond to commercial cinema, use of the Opera House declined. At the same time, the needs of city government grew. The police department expanded throughout the lower level, and district court offices were constructed on the stage. By 1970 administrative offices encroached into the auditorium until the balcony and stage were no longer visible to those attending meetings in what was to become City Council Chambers. The Franklin "Opera House," once an important and vital social center of the community, ceased to provide the entertainment for which it was designed. In 1999, however, with the vision of residents like Norma Schofield and Steve Foley, the City Hall began the transformation back into the Opera House once again. The drop ceiling was removed, the partitions which formed offices on stage were torn down, and myriad other aesthetic and technical improvements were made to enable the Opera House to be reborn.
What started as the Franklin Opera House Restoration Committee evolved by 2000 to become a nonprofit corporation, Franklin Opera House, Inc. By 2001, the first shows in 30 years lit up the proscenium and breathed life into this grand old building. Since that time we have provided performance opportunities for hundreds of people in our community - children, youth, and adults - and entertained thousands of guests.
As we enter a new phase in our journey, we hope to build on the successes of the last few years and find new ways to preserve our wonderful "opera house" to promote Franklin and to enrich the community.
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