Fire swept through Danville, Kentucky on the 22nd day of February in 1860. Almost every church, business, hotel, and livery in the central business district was consumed. One very important first redevelopment of the town in the post-Civil War era was the construction of a theater venue. James Hall was built and financed by Joseph McAlister James, known locally as Joseph McJames.
Inferno Builds James Hall
Terrible Conflagration! Danville in Ruins!
“About 3 o’clock yesterday evening, a fire broke out in the large frame residence of Professor Matthews, on Fourth Street, and the wind being from the South-west, the flames were speedily carried over the town. We have no time for particulars. About half the town is in ruins . . .
- Inferno Builds James Hall
- James Hall Timeline
- Danville Before the Fire Storm
- McJames & Financiers Form a Bank
- What James Hall Looked Like
- How James Hall Was Constructed
- Sale of Commercial Stores Beneath James Hall
- Attractions at James Hall
- Stout’s Movie Theater at James Hall
- James Hall Gets Washed Out
- James Hall Today – A Site Forgotten
James Hall Timeline
CONFLAGRATION Builds James Hall
Fire sweeps through Danville, Kentucky. Almost every Main St. business is consumed.
JAMES HALL RISES
Built on Third St. off Main St., the venue acts as a community center, auditorium, theater, and general meeting place. The production manager of James Hall is Pat Loughlin.
DRAMA COMES TO DANVILLE
Pat Loughlin imports entertainment from the best professional centers of the U.S. and Europe. Talent also is trained locally and exhibited at James Hall.
Joseph McJames meets with other businessmen to form the Central Bank of Danville. Primarily interested in building a new hotel after the inferno, the bank finances other needed commercial development, too.
After the Civil War, the fragile economic climate of the reconstruction era threatens the survival of James Hall. William R. Bowman & Jerry L. Spears acquire the venue as it struggles to survive.
As operational debts mount, Bowman & Spears are forced to sell the venue for $3,300 to banker Clifton Rodes. In turn, Rodes flips the venue back to builder & local financier Joseph McJames.
McJames expands community use of James Hall. The Methodist Church raises $140 with a bazaar & dinner. Spelling Bee mania creates a new attraction for youth and brings roller skating to James Hall. To attract adult audiences, lectures are booked, as are dinners & dances. Traveling theatricals and local repertory theater broaden audiences & revive success.
Seeing growing success, the Danville Town Hall Co. raises desire for a new opera house. But the company can’t raise the funds. Instead, James Hall undergoes its first major renovation with a new stage, a painted new backdrop, dressing rooms, & folding chairs. Thomas Edison visits to display his new phonograph. Re-branded as the Danville Opera House, the public still calls it Old James Hall. Balls become frequent events. Centre College holds its Commencement Ball. Washington’s Birthday Ball is a big event, as is the Fair Week Ball during the Kentucky State Fair. Speeches on July 4th last the full day.
The new Cincinnati Southern Railroad brings speakers from lecture circuits to James Hall. Danville is treated to its first opera, The Mikado. A.G. Field’s Minstrels prove a popular attraction. On April 10, 1888, the Danville Colored School holds commencement exercises at James Hall.
RENOVATION #2 BRINGS A NEW NEIGHBOR
The Danville Opera House gets a balcony & exclusive box seating . In the stores below, a new occupant is installed. The Danville Laundry Company offers upscale clothes cleaning services, improving the dress appearance of fashionable Opera House attendees.
Clothing merchant J.L. Frohman, arrived in Danville from New York, joins Cap Tillier Veatch to create new management. The Danville Opera House is marketed to producers and booking agents in national theatrical directories.
Enterprising John B. Stout acquires the failing drug store of Capt. E. W. Lillard. The Danville Steam Laundry beneath James Hall is incorporated. When Lillard is promoted to Major, Stout sells Lillard his drug store now made profitable beneath James Hall. Earlier, Lillard married Stout’s daughter to cement his relationship with Stout.
Under Maj. Lillard, James Hall gets a major & an important upgrade that transforms the venue. Electricity replaces the original gas lamps, lighting James Hall and its stage. Lillard is elected Kentucky State Representative.
STOUT’S OPERA HOUSE
The population of Danville grows to 8,000. The Danville Laundry adds new dry cleaning to its services. John B. Stout acquires James Hall, adding afternoon & evening matinees to nightly performances. Coburn’s Minstrels become an annual highlight. J.J. Coleman manages a chain of theaters across the South & is retained as booking agent for Stout’s Opera House. Coleman joins other theater owners to form The National Theater Owners Association. The move increases the costs of theatrical production for local owners.
THE DECLINE OF JAMES HALL
Politics doom Maj. Lillard. He takes his own life. Stout’s Opera House becomes a motion picture theater. When J.B. Stout violates exhibitor rules, Danville is deprived of major film releases. Attempts to restore film distribution results in B-movie attractions of lesser quality.
A final third renovation creates separate entrances & facilities for white & black audiences. The Danville Opera House succumbs, replaced by J.B. Stout’s Dance Pavillion, where antique auctions are held. Stout goes out of business sometime in the Great Depression.
ENCORE & THE FINAL CHAPTER
The Danville Laundry & Dry Cleaning Service becomes the sole surviving occupant of James Hall. In 1924, the company celebrates 39 years in business. In 1968, Danville Laundry & Dry Cleaning is sold to John Short & James Naylor who operate Ideal Cleaners on south Fourth St. and in nearby Stanford.
JAMES HALL DISAPPEARS
Urban redevelopment removes James Hall from Danville’s streetscape. The vacant land becomes a parking lot.
Danville Before the Fire Storm
A Thriving Community
The population of Danville in 1852 was 3,000. The town had a college, four high schools and eleven churches. The following merchants in the town center offered everything needed, and some things imaginable.
McJames & Financiers Form a Bank
Money to Rebuild
Town fathers gather to rebuild Danville’s commercial center. The following join Joseph McJames to form a bank – T. W. Jackson, Clifton Rodes, Joshua Fry Bell, C. T. Worthington, A. H. Sneed Esq., Hervey Helm, T. J. Dillehay, Alexander Scott McGrorty Sr., J. H. Davis, W. R. Orear, James Granville Cecil Sr., J. H. Thomas, M. J. Durham, William F. Evans, W. M. Fields, Charles Edwin Bowman, James Kinnaird, George Francis “Frank” Lee, Reuben Gentry, John Allen Burton, G. W. Welsh, J. M. McFerran, John Tewmey.
What James Hall Looked Like
Beginning around 1850, small towns aspired to have an Opera House. Most were built according to a construction template. Stores occupied the ground level. The opera house occupied the upper two stories of a building.
Joseph McJames was a visitor to Columbus, Ohio. He and his family even resided in Westervelt [today’s Westerville], north of Columbus for a period of time. A little further north is the town of Mount Vernon, Ohio. There, the town built the Woodward Opera House in 1850. The theater in Ohio may have inspired Joseph McJames to build James Hall in Kentucky a decade later. The two theaters are nearly identical, built in the same manner, and served the same purposes.
How James Hall Was Constructed
Joseph McJames constructed James Hall to give himself a free and clear ownership of the theater, while the rental stores beneath James Hall produced an income stream to retire any debt or mortgage for the building.
Physically, the building consisted of three stories. At ground level, individual storefronts serviced a variety of businesses. First occupants included a Post Office, the Central National Bank, a drug store, and a fourth merchant. An entry hall and staircase lead upstairs to the theater, which occupied the upper two stories of the building.
The storefronts at ground level were sold in separate ownership interests to individual business owners, similar to financing schemes of today for cooperative, mixed-use, or condominium developments. The sale of ground floor units paid for the entire construction of the building. Joseph McJames owned James Hall, free and clear.
Sale of Commercial Stores Beneath James Hall
In 1868, Joseph McJames sold the ground level stores beneath James Hall. The following two deeds suggest a separation of assets from payment made to Joseph McJames and his second wife Margaret Wood.
Attractions at James Hall
All the details that producers and booking agents needed to know about James Hall were promoted in national theatrical directories. Aware of the requirements to put on their show and earn a profit, producers could see from a distance what Danville had to offer in terms of audience size, promotion, transportation, accommodations, and potential box office receipts. Physical details about staff and the venue informed promoters if James Hall was a good fit for their show.
A. G. Field’s Minstrels
The minstrels’ show of Al G. Field played James Hall. Newspaper reports described a typical performance of the show Al G. Field’s Minstrels produced.
“The entertainment was novel in many of its features and…one of the best minstrels shows yet…the curtain on its first upward roll disclosed a scene upon a Mississippi levee, with the embarkation, upon the steamer ‘R.E. Lee,’ of passengers and deckhands and the introduction of choruses and dancing. The second scene introduced the interior of the steamboat cabin, where was given a delightful concert, interspersed with some new jokes and clog dancing. Then followed a laughable skit on modern magic, in which Field was assisted in a ludicrous manner by Billy Van; a dancing tournament by eight clog dancers; Roman battle-ax swinging by Cradoc, Billy Van in his monologue entertainment, and the Morrisey brothers in their songs and dances…There were other features fully as attractive.”
James Arthur Coburn’s Minstrels
The minstrels show of James Arthur Coburn also performed at James Hall.‘
Public Figures & Lecturers at James Hall
The appearances of public figures and lecturers from the speaker circuits were a popular and inexpensive attraction.
Danville Son – Harry Frankel, aka Singin’ Sam
Harry Frankel was the son of Solomon “Sol” Frankel of The Hub-Frankel Department Store in Danville. Following his employment as a minstrel in Al B. Field’a Minstrels show, Frankel fashioned a vaudevillian career for himself singing Negro music.
Refreshment Time with Singin’ Sam
Following his appearance in Field’s minstrels’ show, Frankel became a crooner. When endorsed by Barbasol shaving lotion, Frankel became known as Singin’ Sam, the Barbasol Man. Later, his Refreshment Time radio appearances as Singin’ Sam from 1937 to 1942 were sponsored by Coca-Cola.
Singin’s Sam song tracks: 0:38-There’s Yes, Yes, In Your Eyes; 2:44-Indian Summer; 5:47-Minstrell Song-Somebody’s Done Me Wrong; 9:13-I Love a Little Cotton.
Stout’s Movie Theater at James Hall
On March 10, 1917, Moving Picture magazine announced yet another remodel of the Danville Opera House. John B. Stout had been using the opera house as a movie theater since 1908. In the present remodel, the existing ground level entrance would be retained but would be dedicated to colored use only. White people now entered through Stout’s drug store with the prospect of increasing Stout’s mercantile business at the same time. Separate toilet rooms, restrooms, and lobby were provided. Topping Stout’s improvement list would be “the best type of projection machine the owner can find.” For safety, additional theater exits were installed.
James Hall Gets Washed Out
The Lyons-Nichols Partnership in the Danville Laundry
At James Hall, the origin of the enduring enterprise of the Danville Laundry & Dry Cleaning Co. Inc. rested in the partnership of its two founders, the Lyons family and the Nichols family. The Lyons family were Jewish clothing merchants from Cincinnati. They joined with the third and fourth Kentucky generation of the Nichols family, Danville pioneers originally from Massachusetts. Upon the deaths of brothers Henry & Samuel Lyons, the laundry fell into the hands of John M. Nichols and his sons. Nichols already managed and operated the business on a daily basis with his sons. The Nichols hold on the Danville Laundry proved as enduring as did the Nichols family’s hold on the County Clerk’s office of the Boyle County Courthouse to the rear of James Hall. For decades and through four generations following, a member of the Nichols family has served Boyle County as county clerk.
History of Danville Laundry & Dry Cleaning Co. Inc.
Danville’s Advocate-Messenger newspapers recalled the following history of the firm on July 10, 1940.