Throwback Thursday by Matson Insurance: Great Halls of Brookville

HallsMatson Insurance is partnering with Jefferson County History Center to offer exploreJeffersonpa.com readers a look in Jefferson County’s past. Today Great Halls of Brookville is being showcased.

[Pictured: The Independent Order of Odd Fellows once met in their great hall high above Main Street in Brookville. (JCHS Collection)]

GREAT HALLS OF BROOKVILLE

Once Brookville’s Main Street was home to great halls, large spaces on the second or third stories of buildings, where entertainment events took place, organizations met, and speakers informed the citizenry. There was no radio, television, or internet.

Most folks might think immediately of the Marlin Opera House (which began in 1883), but there were other large spaces on Main Street where crowds interacted.

The first large space available for public gatherings after lots were sold on Main Street in 1830 was the jail. Presbyterians conducted services there until their church sanctuary was completed. When the courthouse itself was completed, the Methodists used it for worship.

Schoolhouses were other large spaces. In 1856, school superintendent Samuel McElhose decided to host an annual teachers’ institute, and the first group met in a Punxsutawney “schoolhouse at candlelighting.” Attendance grew and soon teachers were coming to Brookville for four and five days to listen to lectures and be entertained in the Courthouse, the Belvedere Opera House, and the Methodist Church.

Following the Civil War, John McCracken built what is now named Landmark Square on the southeast corner of Main and Valley streets, a building Scott describes as containing “two stores, and the upper a large town hall, while the other rooms are occupied by private families.” An itinerant stencil painter decorated the walls with murals depicting the Civil War and other military symbols.

Lodges and secret societies were phenomena of the early 19th century, and their large memberships required large meeting places. The meeting room of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows burned in the first of 1856. They surrendered their charter, but reorganized later and had their meeting room on the third floor of the Parker P. Blood Building (est. 1875) where the letters I.O.O.F. may still be seen high up on the building’s façade. The Masonic Lodge moved from the American House to other spaces including Nicholson Hall, and finally located in the McKnight Building (est. 1871) now the Courthouse Grill.

Finally, in 1883, Silas Marlin began to build what is the largest and best known of Brookville’s great halls. The then-called Marlin Block contained a “splendid new hall” on the second and third floors, six retail spaces and eleven offices. This “large and elegantly fitted up opera house, with a seating capacity of over nine hundred” was used for a video documentary about Stephen Foster in 1999. Co-producer Randall MacLowry praised the hall. “The Marlin Opera House is an incredible artifact of American theater history.” Between 1886 and 1902, Brookville’s grandest hall was the setting for performances of all types, high school graduations, speakers, religious programs, and other types of entertainment.

Church sanctuaries and the courtroom continued to provide space for large audiences, and other large spaces appeared. Today, the high school auditorium seats more than 800, and fire halls, church halls, Grange halls, Hobah Lodge, and the YMCA all have large meeting spaces, too.

[email protected] County Historical Society, Inc.

Throwback Thursday is brought to you by Matson Insurance in Brookville.

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Submitted by the Jefferson County History Center.


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