The Sherman Masonic Temple and Opera House, now known as the Old Sherman Opera House, was constructed in 1880 by the Sherman chapter of the Freemasons. The Masons met on the third floor of the building, and leased the lower two floors to the Sherman Opera Company. While it was home to many theatrical productions, the Opera House also hosted a wide variety of acts including “Temperance lectures, Trained animal acts and Church revivals.” The Masonic Temple and Opera House was a prime example of the economic and cultural expansion of Sherman that took place in the post-Reconstruction era.
For Sherman, the construction of the Masonic Temple and Opera House was a part of a broader trend bringing “new banks, colleges, [and] hotels” to the area.3 Reconstruction and the rise of the railroad helped to bring economic opportunity to Sherman, as well as institutions like Austin College, giving the city the nickname “The Athens of Texas.”3 The construction of the Sherman Opera House helped to make Sherman not just an economic center, but a “cultural center” as well.2
Outside of the Sherman Chapter of the Freemasons, three names are generally associated with the creation of the Sherman Opera House. George Dickey was the architect behind the Opera House. Dickey, despite
being born in New Hampshire and training in Boston, designed “numerous
public, commercial, and residential buildings in Houston” in the late
19th century, including the Capitol Hotel, “built on the site of the
provisional capital of the Republic of Texas.”6 Judge C. C. Binkley, who organized and helped to fund the endeavor; L. F. Ely, a former captain in the Confederate army and a member
of the Sherman Masons, provided materials for construction, just as he also did for the construction
of the Sherman Courthouse in 1876. Judge Christopher Columbus Binkley, meanwhile, was the primary stockholder of the Binkley Hotel, the president of the Merchants and Planters (M & P) Bank, and the President of the Masonic Temple Co. which constructed the Opera house - as well as serving as a district court judge from 1870 to 1874.
The three organizations that Binkley headed worked as a sort of symbiotic entity; the bank, the hotel, and the opera house served much of the same clientele, and all drew notable visitors to Sherman. The bank quickly became a hub for business which would attract visitors to the hotel. Likewise, the opera house attracted “popular and prominent men and women” to Sherman and to the Binkley Hotel.9 This business model was so successful that when former president Taft visited Sherman, Texas he also stayed in the Binkley Hotel.
When the Opera House was constructed in the 1880s, Sherman was at “a pinnacle in Texas economic history,” boasting “the largest population of any county in Texas” and later named “the financial center of Texas.”3 When business began to fade, however, so too did the fortunes of the Opera House, which closed its doors in 1918.