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“O” is for Opera House

South Carolina A to Z larger logo

“O” is for Opera houses. In the period between 1880 and 1920, opera houses flourished in communities across South Carolina. Especially in larger towns, the opera houses were imposing architecturally distinctive buildings with elaborate interiors. Sumter’s three-story Richardson Romanesque stone building had a one hundred foot clock tower. In smaller communities, they were more modest and often located on the second floor of multi-purpose buildings (in Laurens above the town hall). “Road shows” that travelled the country provided dramatic productions, musical comedies, operas, minstrel shows, and other live entertainment. By the 1930s the new sound movies had eclipsed live entertainment, and some opera houses converted to motion picture theaters. In the decades after 1930 most of the opera houses in the state were demolished, but a few survived and restored in Abbeville, Sumter, Marion, and Newberrry.

Dr. Walter Edgar has two programs on South Carolina Public Radio: Walter Edgar's Journal, and South Carolina from A to Z. Dr. Edgar received his B.A. degree from Davidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.