Collection Title: Uriah Hunt Painter’s West Chester Opera House Business Records

Collection Number: Ms. Coll. 148

Dates of Collection: 1869-1903

RepositoryChester County Historical Society, West Chester, PA

Language: English

Project Archivist: Joseph L. Weber


Business Records and Scrap Books describing the activities of the Chester County Horticultural Society pertaining to Horticultural Hall and its metamorphosis into the West Chester Opera House from 1869 through 1900. The Opera House became “Memorial Hall” of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) in 1903.

Collections Contents:

Box 1 Folder 1    1869 (3 items):

Correspondence from Samuel Painter to his son, Uriah Hunt Painter concerning stockholders (lists) / votes/shares and stock acquisition effort concerning  Horticultural Hall.

Box 1 Folder 2    1870 (18 items):

From correspondence in this folder we can determine that two families were the major stockholders in Horticultural Hall; The Charles Pennypacker family and the Samuel Painter family.

It appears that Uriah Hunt Painter decided to undertake the restoration of Horticultural Hall.

Correspondence describing the condition of other businesses (Ice business and lumber yard) owned by Uriah Hunt Painter.

Correspondence detailing the condition of Horticultural Hall and the restoration efforts that would be required to create a suitable venue for stage productions.

Stage scenery and curtains were offered by L. W. Seavey of New York.

Old lumber (joists and flooring) removed from Horticultural Hall was sold.

Paint and plaster needed to be replaced.

There were discussions regarding the dimensions of the Hall. The windows and roof were to be redesigned.

Importantly, as early as 1870 there began an ongoing effort to build a competitive venue to Horticultural Hall (somewhere in West Chester; perhaps on Market Street by the Railroad Station).

 Box 1 Folder 3    1871 (36 items):

Mr. Christman has been installed as manager of Horticultural Hall.

The value of the holdings (estate) of Charles Pennypacker have been assessed.

Restoration of the Hall by Uriah Hunt Painter proceeds.

Plumbing and heating of the Hall are major issues that are discussed in numerous correspondence in this folder and beyond.

Politics of the county are discussed.

Discussion of the purchase of a piano for the Hall.

Mention that the rents for various affairs held at the Hall are not covering the expenses.

Proposal to use the basement of the Hall as a “Bowling Saloon”.

Discussions regarding Uriah Hunt Painters’ other business ventures.

Restoration of the Hall is announced in the newspapers.

Box 1 Folder 4    1872 (1 item):

Accounting of expenses of Hall.

Box 1 Folder 5    1873 (3 items):

Correspondence concerning the Senate of the Commonwealth of

Pennsylvania and loan of $15000.00 to Horticultural Society.

Box 1 Folder 6    1877 – 1880 (1 item):

Hall usage accounting records 1877-1880.

Box 1 Folder 7   1880 (4 items):

Correspondence re: furniture being purchased for Hall.

Photo of stage area of Hall.

Box 1 Folder 8    1880 (1 item):

Horticultural Hall Ledger 1880-1884

Box 1 Folder 9    1881 (6 items):

Series of correspondence explaining that Uriah Hunt Painter had purchased Horticultural Hall but had over the course of prior years          invested heavily in the upkeep of the Hall.

Uriah Hunt Painter had a desire in late 1881 to sell the Hall for the “RIGHT” price.

Series of newspaper articles detailing the need for a new hall.

A vote was taken on a variety of properties and a site on East Market Street was selected. (This was never built).


Meanwhile Uriah Hunt Painter continued to upgrade Horticultural Hall.

Box 1 Folder 10    1882 (4 items):

Orders for chairs

Competing bids for painting of Hall          

Invoice for painting of hall by Samuel March

Ledger sheets for 1882-1884        

Roof of the Hall was to be changed in design- New  truss design.

Diagrams of truss layouts.

Box 1 Folder 11    1883 (6 items):

There were apparently two different plans and different groups in the West Chester community discussing  the future of the Hall as detailed in newspaper clippings and correspondence.

  1. Tear it down and build a new opera house
  2. Renovate and enlarge Horticultural Hall to become the Opera House.
    1. Roney Williamson was to be the architect.            

Alternate sites continued to be discussed by groups within the West Chester business community. (See Newspaper Clippings File regarding the “Assembly Building”).

Box 1 Folder 12    1884 (1 item):

Skating rink proposal.  

Box 1 Folder 13    1885 (6 items):

Robert Mitchell (Cincinnati) furniture company

Lists of expenses paid for hall.

Letters re: shipment of chairs via Pennsylvania Railroad 

Engineers letter re: tower

Correspondence with Edison Electric Company to wire the Hall.

Letters describing furniture acquisition and proposals to rent.

Box 1 Folder 14    1886 (2 item):

Account ledger sheets 1886

Bank deposit slips.

Box 1 Folder 15    1887 (5 item):

Bank deposit slips

Ledger sheets

Account sheets

Correspondence with C.B. Demarest Co. re: chairs.

New roof design

Box 1 Folder 16    1888 (1 item):

Ledger sheets 1888

Box 1 Folder 17    1889 (1 item):

Ledger sheets 1889

Box 1 Folder 18    1890 (1 item):

Ledger sheets 1890 

Box 1 Folder 19    1891 (3 items):

Hall receipts 1888

Correspondence from Uriah Hunt Painter to E.S. Mendenhall re: receipts from 1868-1891.

Letter from R.H. Thomas re: sale of Hall.



Box 2 Folder 1     1892 (2 items):

Correspondence with Seavey’s Scenic Studio and also Sosman and Landis of Chicago re: scenery and asbestos stage curtains.

Box 2 Folder 2     1892 (5 items):

West Chester Opera House renovation is now complete.

Bookings for 1892

Correspondence to and from M.C. Griffith (treasurer of Opera House) re: receipts from various shows and affairs.

Receipts for February, April and December 1892.

Correspondence with Clarence Bennett – Actor and Poet.

The West Chester “Assembly Building” was opened to the public on March 14, 1892.

Box 2 Folder 3     1893 (5 items):

Receipts and expense sheets for 1893.

1893 newspaper clipping announcing renovation of Horticultural Hall; now the  West Chester Opera House.


floor and roof raised 6 feet

seating capacity increased by 300

gallery at 2nd floor

curtains and drops by Prof. Seavey

commodious room in rear.

In 1893 at a stockholders meeting of the Horticultural Society:

President S. M. Painter


Alfred P. Reid

Uriah Hunt Painter

Charles B. Lear

Comments made on financial difficulties and recommending a plan for relief.

Ledger sheets for March, April, August, September and December 1893.  

Box 2 Folder 4    1894 (1 item):

Receipt book ledger pages  1894.

 Box 2 Folder 5    1895 (3 items):

Letters of solicitation to play West Chester Opera House from:

Mr. William Lewis.

Boyds Modern Minstrels

Envelope   “The Sages – Hypnotists”

“ The Empire Theater (Allentown)”

Box 2 Folder 6    1896 (1 item):

Ledger sheets for 1896

Box 2 Folder 7    1897 (4 items):

Bookings, ledger sheets, receipts and expenses – 1897-1898 

Box 2 Folder 8   1897 (2 items):

Correspondence re: Mercantile Tax with Mention of “Assembly Building” as competition to Opera House.

Box 2 Folder 9   1898 (1 item):

Receipts and expenses for Opera House for: January, March, April, May, July and September 1898

Box 2 Folder 10   1899 (1 item):

Letter of request for use of Opera House for Democratic meeting.

Various telegrams – Uriah Hunt Painter now at Long Branch, New Jersey Life Saving Station #5 

 Box 2 Folder 11   1899 (2 items):

Letters re: repair to various properties owned by Uriah Hunt Painter.

 Opera House receipts – March to October 1899

Box 2 Folder 12   1900 (8 items):

Letter to Frank Painter re: financial condition of Opera House.

Letters re: N.Y.P. & N. Telegraphic company and Western Union

 Opera House Receipts – January 1900

Opera House Receipts – September 1900 (mentions estate of Uriah Hunt Painter).

Uriah Hunt Painter died in October 20, 1900.  

 Letter October 30, 1900 to James Ash re: Uriah Hunt Painter holdings and rents. 

Opera House Receipts – December 1900

Letter from Frank J. Painter to J. Ash re: sale of fixtures and cash register.

 Box 2 Folder 13   1901 (1 item):

Letter describing business of both the Opera House and Assembly building not doing well.

 Box 2 Folder 14   1902 (5 items):

Various letters re: sale of Opera House furnishings (2,3 – 1902)

Letters re: sale of Opera House chairs to J.A. Mitchell (April,  1902)                

Letters re: sale of ropes and sheaves (April, 1902) 

Letter re: Lumber yard lot and sale to Government. 

Letters re: sale of Opera House chairs (March, August, December, 1902).

 Box 2 Folder 15   1903 (8 items):

Letter re: purchase of Opera House scenery by Dr. W. H. Long (February 1903).

Letter stating that the West Chester Opera House has been sold (November 1903).

Newspaper clipping re: G.A.R. Post to pay no taxes.

Letter re: width of alley (December 1903).

Letter re: disposition of Opera House assets (December 1903).

Letter re: carpenter and ice harvesting business (November 1903).

Disposition of ice business (December 1903).

Letter re: future of Opera House.

Box 2 Folder 16   1903 (1 item):

Transfer of Opera House ownership documents to G.A.R.

February 1903 – November 1903 


SCRAP BOOK PAGES   (Boxes  3 through 14)           

There were bound scrap books containing correspondence and more interestingly I think, the solicitations and advertising literature of a variety of traveling troupes that desired to play at the Opera House.

The time-frame of these scrap books was from 1893 through 1899.

Each scrap book was disassembled and the contents of the pages placed in individual file folders. They are organized as they were when bound and indexed via a spreadsheet for ease of reference.

There was one interesting anomaly found within the scrap books.

This can be found in Box 9 Folder 39.

This folder contains various advertisements for motion pictures which played at the Rialto Theater in West Chester. The time frame is the early to mid 1920’s.

Research has found that the Rialto was located somewhere on the north side of Gay Street between Walnut and High Street. 

Two addresses were found in the newspaper clippings file so a precise address could not be placed from the information in this collection. 

The Rialto apparently was managed by the same management company that managed the Assembly Hall (or Grand Opera House as it came to be named).

The Rialto played both silent films and then “Talkies”.

Both the Rialto and Grand Opera House ceased to function when the new Warner Theater opened in 1930.



Additional correspondence and solicitations similar to what was found in the scrap book pages was located in another collection .

PAINTER FAMILY PAPERS, 1837-1922 Collection 124

Series V – Uriah Hunt Painter, business correspondence, 1882-1903

Boxes 13 – 15

Folders 232 – 273.

The information contained in these folders of this collection has been

included in the spreadsheet.