This month’s Mercer Savings Bank Giving Mission recipient is the Fort Recovery Friends of the Opera House.
The group’s purpose is to restore the historic Fort Recovery Morvilius Opera House to its former glory and create a gathering space for community events.
History of the Opera House
After the Civil War, it was popular for small communities to have an opera house — a home not only for music and theater, but a community gathering space for lectures, high school commencement ceremonies, book clubs, sporting events, wedding receptions, and more.
Fort Recovery’s opera house was built in 1883 on the top floor of a commercial storefront. It changed hands several times before being purchased by its namesake, Russell Morvilius, a local grocer. His daughter Fay was a singer who grew up to tour in Europe and the United States, and she was one of the many performers at the opera house.
The Fort Recovery Opera House, circa 1909.
Falling into Disrepair
Opera houses fell out of fashion when other forms of entertainment, such as movies, became popular. As more people owned automobiles, they could drive longer distances for entertainment — making the local opera house less necessary.
By the 1930s, nearly all community events in Fort Recovery took place at the newly built high school gymnasium. And in 1939, it closed its doors for good.
The building sat untouched for more than 80 years, despite a few efforts to restore it, before the Friends of the Fort Recovery Opera House formed in 2020.
“The groups that tried to restore it prior to us just realized what a massive undertaking it would be,” said president Karen Meiring.”So this time, we decided if we didn’t do it now, it would fall into disrepair and never be able to be saved…it was kind of do or die for us.”
So far, the group has raised about half its goal of more than $2 million. Meiring said much progress has been made in the two years since she joined the group, but there’s still plenty to do.
The building contains beautiful architecture and artwork — including some that has yet to be uncovered — but it also came with plenty of challenges. A new floor, new ceiling, updated HVAC systems, electricity, and more are needed. Furthermore, Meiring said the group wants to ensure the building will be accessible for everyone, necessitating a new annex with restrooms and an elevator.
“We’re pushing this as a community gathering place, a functional place,” said Meiring. “We don’t want it to be a museum.”
The goal is for the opera house to be completely remodeled in another two years, although supply chain challenges have slowed the process down. Still, Meiring is hopeful the progress will stay on schedule and provide another complement to Fort Recovery’s already-rich history.
“There’s just really a sense of pride in Fort Recovery, that people are willing to donate to things like this,” she said. “This is something else for the community to be really proud of.”
Learn More About the Fort Recovery Opera House
Meiring said the Mercer Savings Bank Giving Mission funds will be used to restore the plaster ceiling, which is the first big step toward bringing the building up to code.
“We’ve been anxious to get the physical process started, and this money will definitely help with that,” she said.
Those interested in learning more about the opera house’s restoration — and seeing updates on its progress — can visit the group’s website. Donations can also be made online via the site.