Silas P. Smith Opera House
Built from the bricks of the Doddridge County Courthouse that burnt down in 1898, the Silas P. Smith Opera house was created in 1900. Silas P. Smith was a staple in the town. He served as postmaster, mayor and publisher of the local newspaper and as you would expect, he was very influential in the town. Once the building was built, it was adorned with large bay windows and arches the building shows the architecture of the time. When opened, the opera house was a prominent in West Union. Acts would come in and out bringing with them tourism to the small town. Several decades later, the house was bought by the town and turned into the Doddridge County Public Library in 1965. Since 2015, due to the relocation of the county library, the building has been used as office buildings while the Doddridge County Courthouse gets a renovation.
Backstory and Context
The owner and namesake of the opera house, Silas P. Smith was said to be born in Doddridge County around 1860. He was a jack of all trades in the town of West Union. In 1889 for around $1800, Smith bought a lot adjacent to his house. Although construction did not begin until a decade later, what was built was a simple Romanesque style building, which was turned into the Silas P. Smith Opera House.
In February of 1900, an ad ran in the local paper, The West Union Record, stating that the new opera house in the small town of West Union, which was not yet completed, would be open to the public that following Monday. The opening three night engagement at the Silas P. Smith Opera House would be performed by R. J. Elwood’s stock company, which after the first night returned numerous times to preform. Sadly, due to lack of funding, the opera house had to limit the engagements that took place there. Events were no longer scheduled after that year, but religious, civic, and school events still took place there.
The Silas P. Smith Opera House is the type of building that changes with the progression of a town. In 1915, both floors of the house was used as apartments for the glass factory workers until the factory was closed down. Between 1930 and 1936, the 6th through 8th graders of West Union Grade School were housed on the second floor while the first floor was still being used as apartments.
In 1958, the opera house was sold through the West Union Bank to Virgil Hall who maintained it as an apartment building. Seven years later, the Doddridge County Library Corporation bought the building for $7000. At first, the Doddridge County Library was only the left side of the first floor while apartments still plagued most of the building. It wasn’t until the library started growing that started expanding through the first floor, leaving the second floor for storage and library activities.
In 2015, the Doddridge County Library outgrew the Silas P. Smith Opera House and was relocated to Marie Street. Now, the building that grew and changed as a town progressed is waiting again for when it can help its community again.
The History of Doddridge County, West Virginia. Dallas, Texas. Taylor Publishing Co., 1979.
Doddridge County Historical Society. Facebook. Accessed September 28, 2017. https://www.facebook.com/doddridgecountyhistorical/.