Tag Archives: Danville

James Hall in Danville, Ky & Joseph McJames

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

The Kentucky Tribune, Extra Edition, February 23, 1860

James Hall Timeline



Fire sweeps through Danville, Kentucky. Almost every Main St. business is consumed.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



Urban redevelopment removes James Hall from Danville’s streetscape. The vacant land becomes a parking lot.


Danville Before the Fire Storm

For a month after the disaster, news of the Danville conflagration was widely published nationally. This report appeared in the Lehigh Register of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

McJames & Financiers Form a Bank

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.

  • Woodward Opera House-stage
    Woodward Opera House, Mt. Vernon, Ohio. Comparable to James Hall, Danville, Kentucky
  • Woodward Opera House-logo
  • Woodward Opera House-stairway to theater
    Stairway to upper floor theater, comparable to James Hall
  • Woodward Opera House-arrival lobby
    Second story theater lobby, comparable to James Hall
  • Woodward Opera House-no seats
    The theater house without seating could be used for dinners, bazaars, & other general purposes
  • Woodward Opera House-house view
    With seating installed, the venue became a proper theater
  • Woodward Opera House-lighting crest
    Decorative ceiling crest later accommodated the installation of electric lighting
  • Woodward Opera House-balcony
    Upper and lower balconies accommodated different size audiences
  • Woodward Opera House-stage view
    The stage view from the balcony
  • Woodward Opera House-audience
    The house view with audience present
  • Woodward Opera House-McKinley
    Political & stump speeches were common in such theaters
  • Woodward Opera House-exterior
    A street view showing stores below the theater above

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.

A visit to the renovation of the Woodward Opera House in Mount Vernon, Ohio

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.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of 1886 prominently displays James Hall

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 northwest corner of Main St. & Third St. in Danville, Kentucky shows James Hall on Third St.

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

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.

  • J. A. Coburn's Minstrels poster
    Poster for J.A. Coburn's Minstrels featuring the show's producer and star, James Arthur Coburn
  • About J. A. Coburn from Monarchs of Minstrelsy by Edward Le Roy Rice
  • J.A. Coburn's Minstrels license contract
    A license contract to employ James Arthur Coburn's Minstrels
  • J.A. Coburn's Minstrels postcard advertisement showing touring season
    Postcard & advertisement touting a touring season for James Arthur Coburn's Minstrels
  • Hank White in J.A. Coburn's Minstrels
    Hank White performs in black face in J.A. Coburn's Minstrels

Public Figures & Lecturers at James Hall

The appearances of public figures and lecturers from the speaker circuits were a popular and inexpensive attraction.

  • Poster for Edison Talking Machine

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.

  • Harry Frankel from Danville, Kerntucky performs in black face in A.G. Field's Minstrels show

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.

A touring company of the popular Gilbert & Sullivan opera The Mikado plays The Danville Opera House. Click on the poster to hear a sample of The Mikado.

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

Pictured working in the Danville Laundry is one of the three sons of John M. Nichols – Henry Lyons Nichols named for laundry founder Henry Lyons, Richard Bush Lyons called Bush, & Walter Barrett Nichols. The grandfather and great-grandfather of Henry M. Nichols & sons is Jonathan Nichols of Massachusetts. In his own letters, Jonathon is described as being tall, slender, and sandy-haired. Jonathon established a hemp rope walk on the Wilderness Road within walking distance of James Hall. The stately homes that line the south side of Lexington Ave. today are built on the land of Jonathon’s rope walk. His original office-residence, now over 200 years old and called the Hemp House, is the home of Stray Leaves today.

James Hall Today – A Site Forgotten

The former site of James Hall is a parking lot today serving the Boyle County Court House and jail.

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Tuesday January 12th, 2021

Stray Leaves

Jennifer James-Sepaniak reminds us that one of these daughters is not a James family descendant. ... See MoreSee Less

Jennifer James-Sepaniak reminds us that one of these daughters is not a James family descendant.

Tuesday December 29th, 2020

Stray Leaves

If you want a seat at the table for 2021, be sure to visit our Stray Leaves website at ericjames.org and SUBSCRIBE. ... See MoreSee Less

If you want a seat at the table for 2021, be sure to visit our Stray Leaves website at ericjames.org and SUBSCRIBE.

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I'd love the chance to set even a small handful of the artifacts I've been unearthing on this beautiful table.