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The Smith Blog

SMITH HISTORY BLOG: The Smith’s Other Businesses

By Chris Woodworth

Where could you place a wholesale order for “Smokeless Coal,” purchase a new hat, and mail a letter at the turn of the century in Geneva? Believe it or not, all of this could be done at the Opera House Block!

Antrim Coal ad from 1923 season playbill, courtesy HWS Archives.

As you learned from last week’s blog post by Austin Jennings, when the Opera House was initially designed and constructed in 1894, it was two separate buildings. The rear building housed the opera house itself while the front building, on Seneca Street, was home to a number of different businesses over the years. When the Opera House Block opened for business, the Post Office relocated from its previous site at 66 Seneca St. (Geneva Village Directory, 1894-1895 36) to the space in the Opera House Block that currently contains our box office and concessions area. The Post Office did not move to its current location on Castle St. until after construction of that building in 1906.

The other businesses that occupied retail and office space in the Opera House Block changed quite a bit over the years. Listings in the Geneva village and city directories, ads placed in newspapers and performance programs, and surviving photographs illustrate an array of different enterprises. The street level storefronts on the other side of the building from the Post Office often catered to retail shoppers while the second floor spaces were occupied by law offices and insurance companies. For example, an undated photograph that hangs in an Ontario County display at Eastview Mall in Victor includes visible signage on the second floor that indicates Backenstose and Keyes Law Offices and Prudential Insurance, which are listed at that location in the 1899-1900 directory (Geneva City Directory, 1899-1900 35, 161). The Geneva Telephone Company was also located in the Opera House Block at that time.

Ad for J.R. Worth Jeweler from Geneva Daily Times, 29 April 1896, pg. 3.

The street level shops include a watch and jewelry store as well as a millinery shop. Perhaps even more intriguing than the businesses that were located in the Opera House Block were the secret organizations that found a home there. One such group that was situated somewhere in the building was Geneva’s own Algonquin Club. Founded in 1889, not much is known about this organization. As the authors of the 1893 publication History of Ontario County New York contended, “ histories of secret societies, regardless of their general usefulness, are not fairly within the scope of this work” (326).

Works Cited
Conover, George S., editor and Lewis Cass Aldrich, compiler, History of Ontario County New York, D. Mason and Company Publishers, 1893.
Geneva Village Directory, 1894-1894. W.F. Humphrey, 1894. www.nyheritage.org.
Geneva City Directory, 1899-1900. W.F. Humphrey, 1899. www.nyheritage.org
Smith’s Opera House 1923 Playbill excerpt, Hobart and William Smith Colleges Archives.
Smith Opera House photo, undated (circa 1899-1900), on view at Eastview Mall, Victor, NY.

Smith Opera House, street level, photo on view at Eastview Mall, undated (circa 1899-1900).

Smith Opera House, second floor, photo on view at Eastview Mall, undated (circa 1899-1900).