Henderson County, Kentucky History


Something more than two years ago a half dozen men in the lodge hall of Ivy Lodge, Knights of Pythias, began a discussion as to the feasibility of erecting a Pythian Building and Opera House in this city. Tonight will mark the close and the opening of an era in the history of Henderson. The seed sown by that handful of men has borne results more wonderful than any one of them dared to anticipate. The Park Theatre will formally be dedicated to the purposes for which it was intended tonight.

When that little gathering talked of a home for Ivy Lodge, their ideas were small for the reason that their resources were limited, but as they broached the subject to their friends and as the people of Henderson began to talk of it, the idea became something more than a dream. At last at a lodge meeting it was proposed to see what could be done in the way of securing subscriptions in capital stock in the proposed building. Ivy Lodge, as a lodge, pledged herself to take $5,000 of the stock. Members of the order came promptly forward and subscribed in acceptance with their means and at the end of three months hard work $30,000 of the proposed $50,000 of capital stock had been subscribed; but the town had been thoroughly canvassed and the enterprise seemed likely to die before it could be placed upon a substantial foundation. At this juncture it was determined to apply to some of Henderson's wealthy and public spirited men. Accordingly a committee called on Messrs. James E. RANKIN, John H. and James R. BARRET, and laid before them plans and ideas on which they proposed to go to work. The gentlemen named _____in with the idea at once and each subscribed liberally in the stock.

Mr. R. H. SOAPER was ............
The building (seemed) _____ assured success, and ________ an appropriate site _____ _____ _____ the topic of discussion. _____ all over the city were allotted to the committee in charge of the building, but no site seemed to fit the requirements so admirably as the one which was finally selected. Situated in the very heart of the city, cooled in summer by the breezes from the Indiana Hills, and made comfortable to winter by the most approved modern heating appliances, the building could not have been placed in a more convenient location that where it now stands.
On one side is the BARRET house, opposite it is the city park, and all around it are buildings in keeping with the elegance of the new structure. The question of the location having been finally determined, work was at once begun. This was in the fall of 1893 and the excavating was completed before cold weather set in. Early last spring Contractor KYLE began laying brick and stone. A few weeks afterward or on April 12, 1894, the corner-stone was laid.
.....By the middle of _____ Contractor KYLE completed his contract and passed it over to Messrs. (Mundo) & Mathews of this city, who were to finish the building and turn it over to its owners.

That they have done their work in a substantial, artistic and workmanlike manner will be attested by the throng of people who will be entertained within its wall tonight. The entire interior decorations of the Opera House were arranged by the (Almim) Decorating Company, of Chicago. President STEWART, of that company, remarked after he had finished his contract, that never in the course of his experience had he done work of which he was more proud and which he felt sure would meet the commendation of the people.

The scenery was painted by (Sosman) & Landis of Chicago, a firm which has a national reputation for the excellence of its work. The drop curtain, (used during the) Spanish Wedding scene, is a work of art, worthy of a place in any theatre in the world. As regards (fire) protection, the Park Theatre is perhaps the most secure structure of similar character to be found anywhere in this country. In this particular ____ as near perfect as a play house could well be made.

Its exits are numerous and convenient, so that in case of fire the house could be emptied in less than minute's time/even if all the seats were filled. The curtain spoken of before is absolutely fire proof, and should a blaze occur on the stage it could be cut off as completely from the audience as though it were in another building.

The seating capacity of the theatre is 1353. The chairs are arranged as follows: in the parquet are 288 elegantly upholstered chairs with green plush furnishings, affording perfect comfort to those who use them.

The above transcription was taken from The Daily Journal, Souvenir Edition, Friday, November 16, 1894. There is so much of the article that is so impossible to read that I could only make out paragraphs here and there. It sounds as though this theater was absolutely beautiful.

Additional Notes found in the Society's business files:
The theatre was opened by that renowned actress Rose GOGHLAN, in "Diplomacy." The town turned out to the performance, as it did so many other succeeding attractions. Col. Alex D. RODGERS was the manager, as sideline to his insurance business, and what he didn't know about the theatrical business was not worth knowing.

The Pythian Building Associates was incorporated May 11, 1893, with a capital stock of $50,000 in shares of $50 each. The largest subscribers to the stock were John H. BARRET, James R. BARRET, James E. RANKIN, Ivy LODY of Pythias and R. H. SOAPER at $5,000 each and T. K. GIBBS at $2,000.

In due time a handsome building was erected, together with the theater, offices, store rooms and lodge rooms, etc. The lodge room was used both by the Knights of Pythias and the Henderson Lodge of Elks, and was the best equipped lodge room in the state at that time, according to all reports.
When the Pythian Building, Park Theater and Barret House burned on the morning of July 20, 1896, it entailed a loss, all told, of approximately $150,000, with insurance amounting to $91,600.

The building had served its purpose for three years, two months and nine days.

Col. E. L. STARLING, then editor of The Gleaner, published the following:
"The cruel fire fiend has once again visited Henderson, thus entailing the heaviest loss ever sustained in this city. To say that a spirit of gloom and saness pervades the city from end to end is putting it mildly indeed.
"The people stand in awe before the smoldering ruins and behold in holy horror the work of Mephistopheles. Nothing is talked of but the great loss the city has sustained. Go where you will, in what assemblage you may, and there you hear nothing but comments on Henderson's irreparable loss. The high and the low, the rich and the poor, all alike are of one saddened mind.
"The city yesterday and last night resembled a grief-stricken camp, worse still, a community bowing in sackscloth and ashes to the cruel blow of the fire fiend.
"Men, women and children blocked every foot of ground on courthouse hill and central park, looking in horror on the terribly beautiful scene. The folked flames leaped high into the air and flame frolicked with flame pranced hither and yon as though cognizant of the power they possessed in the utter helplessness of the people to hold them in check. These awful scenes made the leavens lurid.
"Great walls crumbled under the intense heat to which they were subjected, tumbled pell-mell in awful confusion, made the earth tremble and rumble as the distant roar of thunder."

The fire was first discovered by Jim CHRISTOPHER and Bob BAKER, night clerk and porter, respectively, and the alarm given. The fire department was at that moment trying to extinguish a fire at WINSTEAD'S distillery, and before they could get a part of its equipment to the downtown fire the flames had gained such headway that control of the blaze was lost.

L. H. WALKER, Dr. Arch DIXON, Jr., who had rooms in the building had narrow escapes. Dr. Arch DIXON, Jr., in attempting to descend by means of a rope got a hard fall by the breaking of the rope dropping him on the shoulders of some men in the alleyway, considerably bruising them as well as himself.

The guests of the BARRET House were all awakened and escaped with their luggage. Capt. Lloyd W. WHITLOW, the manager, was absent from the city with his family, and lost their trunks, clothing and personal belongings.

Manager Alex D. RODGERS and his family, whose rooms were in the Pythian Building, had been aroused, and made their way out as best they could, leaving their possessions to the fury of the flames.


The following is the estimate of the losses sustained in the fire:

BARRET estate, loss on BARRET House and appurtenances, $40,000; insurance $24,000.
Pythian Association, opera house and hall, $85,000; insurance $50,000.
SNEED and YEAMAN, dwelling house, $1,000; insurance $600.
Wynn DIXON, stock of drugs, $2,500; insurance $1,750.
YEAMAN & LOCKETT, lawyers, $2,000; insurance $650.
S. B. and R. D. VANCE, lawyers, $4,000; no insurance.
Henderson Title Company, papers, documents, etc. $2,900; no insurance.
R. H. CUNNINGHAM, lawyer, $2,000; insurance $500.
M. MERRITT, lawyer, $2,000; no insurance.
CLAY and CLAY, lawyers, $500; no insurance.
Drs. DIXON & DIXON, $3,000; insurance $1,500.
Dr. C. H. JOHNSON, Furniture and instruments, $1,500; no insurance.
W. P. COOPER, lawyer, $1,000; insurance $300.
W. B. MARRS, lawyer, $750; no insurance.
John C. ATKINSON & Company, coal and ice, loss on furniture, etc., $300; no insurance.
E. G. SEBREE, lawyer, $500; insurance $625.
W. J. PETER, lawyer, $100; no insurance.
John ANDERSON of England, clothing amounting to $200; no insurance.
McCLAIN & RODGERS, insurance $200.
Walter BRASHEAR, architect, $200.
Ivy Lodge K. of P., paraphernalia $500; insurance $200.
DUDLEY & FITTS, lawyers, $1,000; insurance $395.
L. H. WALKER, clothing and furniture, $300; insurance $200.
W. O. FULLER, florists, $300; no insurance.


The Park Theater Company in 1910 took over the new theater of the same name, this company was capitalized at $24,000 and was composed of T. A. PEDLEY, J. B. BURCH and J. G. of Owensboro.

On January 19, 1914, the Park Theater Company executed a deed to the Central Trust Company of Owensboro, Kentucky and on March 28, 1914, the property was conveyed to Henry L. Hunt of Jacksonville, Illinois at and for the sum of $19,000, the Henderson National Bank retaining a lien for the unpaid purchase money.

As the result of the suit to collect the purchase, money, the property was bid in by the Henderson National Bank for $13,500.

On August 12, 1922 the bank sold the Grand Theater property to the Henderson Theater Company, at that time composed of Thomas BASKETT, Leo BASKETT, Louis HAYES and Stewart STARLING.

Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2002 HCH&GS