(Posted on March 30, 2021)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
The South Charleston Heritage Commission is sitting pretty.
Last week, a gentleman from Mechanicsburg donated a set of three theater seats to the historical society. The seats fold up, have carved metal legs, and are lashed together with metal straps. The gentleman purchased the seats at a yard sale in Plattsburg 20 years ago and was told then that they were from the South Charleston Opera House.
“It’s very plausible that they are,” said Sue Mattinson, Heritage Commission president, noting that confirming the seats’ origins is tricky.
Most of the commission’s old photos of the opera house show the stage rather than the audience, leaving little to go on by way of comparison. Based on patent drawings of the opera house’s original seats, the commission can confirm that the seats were not among the first to occupy the space.
“Even if they’re not from here, they are of the era of the early years of the opera house… We are delighted with this gift,” Mattinson said.
Built in 1878 and still in use, the opera house is located on the top floor of South Charleston’s town hall at 35 S. Chillicothe St. The well-maintained venue hosts a variety of events, including annual community Christmas concerts and a Civil War era-themed grand ball on New Year’s Eve.
In the not-so-distant past, local amateur actors staged plays there. The venue also is popular as a rental option for weddings and other functions and has caught on as a sweet spot for recording.
Local grade school students can attest to the opera house’s terrific acoustics. Each year, Josh Murray, a teacher at Southeastern Local Schools, takes third-graders on a historical walking tour of South Charleston. The opera house is one of the stops.
“They get to stand on the stage and sing a song. It’s great to watch their eyes light up as their voices reverberate. They sound like a full choir!” Mattinson said.
Scrapbooks, pictures, memorabilia
In addition to the theater seats, the Heritage Commission recently acquired a trove of scrapbooks, photos and memorabilia from the attic of an old farmhouse.
Built in 1852, the Thomas Merritt house sits on Old Springfield Road, just outside of South Charleston. It is commonly known as the Roberts house; Susan Merritt, Thomas’s granddaughter, married Reuben Roberts.
Susan was in South Charleston High School’s first graduating class. Her framed 1872 diploma was among the treasures the Heritage Commission purchased when the attic stash went up for auction.
The commission also purchased scrapbooks full of newspaper clippings and other memorabilia.
“They provide a look at a lot of the day-to-day life of South Charleston from the early 1900s. It adds to our historical knowledge of the village,” Mattinson said.
Heritage Commission members are excited to begin planning this year’s Heritage Days Festival, set for Sept. 25-26. Last year, the commission cancelled the festival and many other events due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 150th Sesquicentennial School Committee plans to hold events in conjunction with the festival.