CORNWELL OPERA HOUSE
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH
PENN YAN LINKS
VIEW LYCEUM FIRE NEWS ARTICLES -
YATES COUNTY CHRONICLE
PENN YAN DEMOCRAT
~ ~ Predecessor of the Sampson Theatre ~ ~
THE SHEPPARD OPERA HOUSE, or
THE YATES LYCEUM
1890 - 1907
With the restoration efforts of the Sampson Theater underway, and with it's commanding presence on East Elm Street, most Penn Yan residents have knowledge of the past of the old Sampson Theatre. But few know that Penn Yan once had an even grander and more opulent theater, the "Sheppard Opera House", later known as the "Yates Lyceum".
When viewing the present parking lot behind the Elk's and Lown's buildings, it is hard to envision a building about the size of the Sampson which once stood there, or to picture the strange corridor that allowed it to have an entrance on Main Street. This is especially true since there seemingly are no photographs available to help us see into the altogether too dim past.
So, with such information as is available, I have attempted to conger up on my computer an image of the old Lyceum complex. The result is lower down on this page. It is a modern aerial view - with representations of the old Lyceum and associated buildings added. I have not attempted to include all of the surrounding buildings, but have included those I remember before the 1967 firehouse fire.
I offer this for those who, like me, find the history of Penn Yan to be interesting, and many times fascinating. - Dick Johnson
According to the Penn Yan Chronicle, the Lyceum was
"Considered one of the handsomest small play houses in the state".
This Penn Yan theater was completely destroyed by fire on March 18, 1907,
exactly seventeen years and one week after it's dedication on March 11, 1890
The fire commenced at the theater's entrance - under the stairway to the balcony.
It began just as a performance of "The Hottest Coon in Dixie" was underway.
Although the fire spread rapidly, there were no fatalities or even injuries.
Two newspaper articles give information on the Lyceum and the fire:
The Yates County Chronicle and
The Penn Yan Democrat
The 800 seat Lyceum was located behind the stores on the East side of Main Street.
In this computer rendition you are looking south.
In the Sanborn maps below, north is at the top.
NOTE: This is a modern aerial view with representations of 1890 buildings added.
To the left is Jacob's Brook; to the right is Main Street.
The exact appearance of the the Lyceum and of the other structures between it and a former house (shown in yellow) is not known. However, the location and footprints of the buildings are shown quite accurately, based on Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. (See below)
The main entrance to the Lyceum was from Main Street (approximately where the Main Street entrance of the Elks Club is now) by way of a long corridor which passed through the newly built Main Street business block, then through the pre-existing yellow house.
- The pink building just above center is the existing Lown building.
- In the right foreground is the present Community Bank.
- Above that, shown in computer rendition, are the old A&P building, the old firehouse (mostly hidden) and a large block which was built at the same time as the Lyceum. These 3 buildings survived the 1907 fire, but were lost 60 years later as a result of the firehouse fire.
- The yellow building was the pre-existing Frank Smith house. The shape was as shown here - square, with a square 2nd story of half the size of the ground floor. The old house was retained as part of the theater entrance system. It also housed the newspaper facilities of "The Penn Yan Democrat" and the photographic studio of E. A. Dean, both of which were gutted by the fire.
- A later addition (not shown) which had been built to the north (nearer side) of the old house was saved. This had been built to extend Cramer's 5 and 10 Cent Store which occupied the north section of the Main Street block. Also saved was an older livery and carriage barn which stood within 30 feet north of the Lyceum. For clarity it is not shown here, but can be seen on the Sanborn maps.
SECTIONS OF THE SANBORN FIRE MAPS from 1892 and 1903
(looking the opposite direction from the above view)
Click on maps for larger image and description
(Each will open in a new window)
Note: The Sheppard Opera House / Yates Lyceum was incorrectly labeled "Sherman Opera House" on the Sanborn maps.
Photo of the Lyceum ruins which appeared in the "Penn Yan Democrat" on March 22, 1907:
Even though their facilities were destroyed by the fire, they got the paper out with this article about the fire, .
THE SHEPARD OPERA HOUSE SEATING CHART - FROM VOL. 1, NO. 4 OF "THE OPERA GLASS" (undated)
"The Only Official Programme of this Theatre" "Published in the Interest of the SHEPPARD OPERA HOUSE"