Tag Archives: VTDNP Phase 1 titles

The Bennington Opera House, through the Lens of Historic Newspapers

When I first commenced my position here at VTDNP last May, I started working with The Bennington Evening Banner, a title published in Bennington, Vermont, from approximately 1903 to 1961. What initially piqued my interest while collating data about each issue of this newspaper were the advertisements for the Bennington Opera House. Diverse in topics, in gravity, and content, the variety of programs was intriguing, and viewed over the years, they paint a changing landscape in the entertainment industry in small-town Vermont, and certainly should be considered indicative of transitions in entertainment across America. My investigation has resulted thus far in a poster (viewable here), which was presented at the UVM Library Conference in August 2013, and this blog entry. 

Like most towns in Vermont (and across America) in the 19th century, the fashionable must-have for entertainment was an opera house, where traveling vaudeville acts, musicians, opera, musicals, and plays could be shown. The opera house was built by Henry Putnam, a wealthy businessman, realtor, and inventor, who, frustrated by the lack of action in the town to construct an entertainment facility, set out to build it himself in 1892. Arguably the largest in Vermont when built, the opera house was equipped with the very latest in theater technology and could seat over 1,000 people:

Interior of the opera house with a garden scene on the stage, c. 1900. Courtesy of the Bennington Museum.

“The opera house proper is built of brick, is 108 feet long, 64 feet wide…The parquet and dress circle have a capacity of 600. Over the dress circle is the balcony circle. In the rear of this is the gallery. The two have seating capacity of 400…From the center hangs a large electric light chandelier. There will be 200 electric lights in the auditorium, of which 36 will be foot-lights. The total cost of the house when completed and furnished will be about $35,000…” – from “Bennington’s New Opera House,” an article published in the Burlington Weekly Free Press, Nov. 11, 1892

After the first performance of MacBeth on December 10, 1892, one individual wrote, in an accurate appraisal of the opera house:

It is well understood that an Opera House here cannot be a paying investment. It is built for public pleasure…Bennington owes Mr. H.W. Putman a debt of gratitude…for giving to a country town a metropolitan Opera House.” –“A.P.V.,” in an article days after the opening of the Opera House in the Bennington Banner, Dec. 16, 1892

Indeed, the opera house often was financially strapped throughout its existence; however, it proved to be lasting entertainment institution in Bennington, for until it burned down in February of 1959, it hosted a plethora of musicals, bands, plays, operas, movies, and more, often to a full house. As one Bennington citizen recalled decades later:

Mildred Holland in an image published in the September 17, 1904 issue of the Bennington Evening Banner.

“People came from Hoosick Falls, N.Y., North Adams, Mass., Manchester and other places to see the plays. There were few nights when the “Standing Room Only” sign was not over the box office window. The reason for this popularity was the fact that the great stars and plays of Broadway came to Bennington for one-night stands, bringing their scenery and casts of sixty and more people.” (Walter C. Wood in Green Mountain Whittlins, Vol. IV, 1951)

Thought not as many as its name might indicate, the opera house did have opera performances.

The cast of "The Old Homestead," a play about a rural farmer who leaves to go in search of his son who has left for the city. Printed in the Bennington Evening Banner, August 11, 1921.
The cast of “The Old Homestead,” a play about a rural farmer who leaves to go in search of his son who has left for the city. Printed in the Bennington Evening Banner, August 11, 1921.

Many performances were favorites at the theater, and they came back year after year for repeat shows, like Jason O’Neill as Monte Cristo, and Denman Thompson’s rural play Old Homestead. Mildred Holland, one of the premier actresses of the time, performed in 1904 in the Triumph of an Empress.

The film industry took off at the turn of the century. Like many local theaters, the opera house had to adapt to keep up with demand and local competition. In May of 1915, the opera house was equipped with a projector booth in the upper gallery and a screen. Opening day was May 31, 1915.

Opening day of films at the opera house. From the Bennington Evening Banner, May 28, 1915.
Opening day of “moving pictures” at the opera house. From the Bennington Evening Banner, May 28, 1915.
An advertisement for a play about how movies are made from September 11, 1917 in the Bennington Evening Banner.
An advertisement for a play about how movies are made from September 11, 1917 in the Bennington Evening Banner.


With the possibility of moving pictures, Americans across the country could see the world for the first time. Lyman Howe’s short films, such as the one shown below, transported Vermonters to Yosemite and beyond.

Advertisement from March 3, 1917, in the Bennington Evening Banner.
Advertisement from March 3, 1917, in the Bennington Evening Banner.
Advertisement for Daddy Long Legs from December of 1919 in the Bennington Evening Banner.

Famous “photoplay” actress Mary Pickford was America’s first movie darling. The opera house showed her silent film Daddy Long Legs in 1919. The film was silent, but as with many silent movies, a live orchestra performed alongside the film.

Unlike today, the opera house was a main vessel through which filmed public service announcements or news could be shared with the community. Open Your Eyes, a film shown in 1919, warned the public about the dangers of STDs (see below ad).

Advertisement for Open Your Eyes, a film created by the US Public Health Service, from September 2, 1919, in the Bennington Evening Banner.

Throughout the progression of WWI, the opera house provided entertainment for the Bennington area, and also, it served on several occasions as a meeting hall for the community’s war efforts.  Bernard Shaw’s romantic-comedy, Arms and the Man, was a popular war-time play about a romance between a Swiss soldier and girl from the Balkans. As many of the live performances at the opera house in the later 1910’s and beyond, they advertise this clearly as “Not a Moving Picture.”

Advertisement for Arms and the Man from November 1, 1917, in the Bennington Evening Banner.
Advertisement for Arms and the Man from November 1, 1917, in the Bennington Evening Banner.

Finally, through this research project, I was able to see a fascinating transition in newspaper advertising. At the turn of the century, newspapers were dense with text; images were infrequent. Opera house advertisements in its first decade were also mostly text, often incorporated in the body of the paper as an article. By the late 1910’s, advertising was more sophisticated: ads were in blocks with pictures (sometimes full-page), and often included cast numbers, expenses, and reviews to entice patrons. Below, view an example of an early advertisement from 1893 and another from 1918.

An advertisement for Follow Me, an extremely popular musical with Anna Held, one of the biggest performers of the time. In the small text box to the right, the manager notes Anna will likely not be performing in Bennington due to illness. Held succumbed to cancer in 1919.
An advertisement for Follow Me, an extremely popular musical with Anna Held, one of the biggest performers of the time. In the small text box to the right, the manager notes Anna will likely not be performing in Bennington due to illness. Held succumbed to a rare form of cancer a few months later in 1918. Ad from the Bennington Evening Banner, March !
22, 1918.
Opera House Announcement of upcoming shows from March 10, 1893 in the Bennington Banner.
Opera house announcement of upcoming shows from March 10, 1893 in the Bennington Banner.


For more advertisements and articles concerning the opera house, visit our Facebook album here. For additional information on the Bennington Opera House’s history, I highly recommend Ted Bird’s article, “The Bennington Opera House and General Stark Theater, 1892-1959: Victorian elegance, while it lasted,” published in the Walloomsack Review, Bennington, Vt., 2012.

Written by Karyn Norwood, Digital Support Specialist, Vermont Digital Newspaper Project

Thanks to:

  • Bennington Museum, particularly Callie Stewart and Tyler Resch, for additional research materials and photographs.
  • UVM Catalog/Metadata Specialists Michael Breiner, Mary VanBuren-Swasey, and Jake Barickman for additional microfilm research.
  • Erenst Anip, Birdie MacLennan, and Prue Doherty for editing assistance.

Growing Fields, as seen in the historic newspaper the Vermont Farmer


“In Vermont the hills are source of fertility to the bottom lands, and will be forever. The valley of the Nile was referred to. The same process is going on here. We want farmers to feel that farming is the best profession, and Vermont is the best state to farm in.”  (From the State Board of Agriculture, Manufactures and Mining meeting notes published in the Vermont Farmer, February 18, 1876, p. 1)

Farming has long been an established part of Vermont culture, economy, and community, and this is clearly demonstrated in the publication of the Vermont Farmer from 1870 to 1877 in Newport, Vermont.  As a supplement to VTDNP’s contribution to the newest exhibit up at UVM Bailey-Howe Library, “Growing Fields,” we thought we would share a little more about the Vermont Farmer, a historic Vermont newspaper that certainly testifies to the notion that Vermonters in the past, as in the present, have deep roots and interest in agriculture as a livelihood.


The Vermont Farmer was, as its banner indicated, “an agricultural and family newspaper for the ruralists of the Green Mountain State.” Published weekly, it included a myriad of topics for the farm family in Vermont in the late nineteenth century, including news about fairs, markets, politics, strategies, technology, and more. People from all over Vermont subscribed, wrote, read, and contributed to the Vermont Farmer; at its height, over 3,500 people were subscribed.

The newspaper covered all kinds of farming, including, as shown in this advertisement from 1875, maple sugaring. It thoughtfully addressed agricultural topics ranging from maintaining bee hives to the varied benefits of different types of cows.

Of particular interest, the newspaper, as its banner indicates, made an effort to include materials of interest for all members of the farm family. In most issues of the paper, a “Ladies’ Department” column offered poems, stories, and advice for the farm wife and daughter on the farm. In the clipping to the left from 1874, a poem sent from woman in Waterbury Center, Vermont, demonstrates her clear preference for gingham over ruffles as the ideal apron for the “Farmer’s Wife.”


The Vermont Farmer, through its advertisements and news columns, also sheds light on the developing technologies and strategies for farming. In the image below to the left, Gray & Sons from Middetown, Vermont, showcases a variety of machines for the farmer to enhance production on his farm. To the right, a new wheel rake, “The Gleaner,” is advertised in 1875 as indispensable for the farmer.



This newspaper provides a rare glimpse into Vermont farming culture of the 1870’s. It is clear in reading any issue of this paper that it was strongly inclusive of all audience members in the Vermont farming community, from the young boy on the farm, to the farm wife, to the politician, to the farmer. You can browse issues of this fascinating newspaper online on Chronicling America.

We’ll end this post with some tasty pie and cake recipes from the October 28, 1871 issue (Let us know if you try them!): 


by Karyn Norwood, edited by Erenst Anip

Chronicling America now at 6 million+ pages; Vermont contributes 129,900 pages

The Library of Congress announced on March 18 that Chronicling America has been updated with over 880,000 new pages of historic newspaper content – bringing total number of pages to 6 million+.

This update includes four batches with 28,000 + pages of new Vermont content — including the Spirit of the Age, the St. Johnsbury Caledonian, and the Bennington Banner families of titles — completing the titles for our Phase 1 (2010-2012) grant

 In addition to newspaper content, NDNP state partners have contributed 117 title essays, including eight by VTDNP project historian, Prudence Doherty.

 An alphabetical listing of Vermont titles and available newspaper essays can be viewed here: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/newspapers/Vermont

Thanks to Prudence, there is also an interactive map that provides access by geographical region to Vermont newspaper titles on Chronicling America. A version of the map will soon be added to the VTDNP web site, but for now, you can read more about it and interact with it, on the blog:  https://vtdnp.wordpress.com/2013/03/17/vtdnp-interactive-map/

   Updates & Enhancements to Chronicling America from the Library of Congress

Deborah Thomas, NDNP Coordinator at the Library of Congress posted the following information about the March 18 updates and enhancements to Chronicling America.

March 18, 2013 — Chronicling America has been successfully upgraded in server, software, and content.

Here are some details on the update:
– more than 800,000 new pages (6 million+), including new contributions from Indiana and North Dakota,
– new content in French and Spanish from Arizona, Louisiana and New Mexico ,
– more than 130 new titles represented, and
– 117 new essays that NDNP state participants have provided.

Additionally, we hope you will notice additional performance improvements in searching and image loading (note: these will be not so obvious at first as we “prime the pump” (i.e. allow the image cache to build up) in the first few days after going public, but it should be apparent shortly.)

We’ve added a few new features and some bug fixes in this release too:

– added iOS support for panning and zooming on iPhones and iPads
– added thumbnail navigator on every page image (this is a feature of the newest version of OpenSeadragon)
– added a Citation feature at the bottom of every newspaper page image (look below the image)

– on the All Digitized Newspapers tab,
                – display all states represented in the geographic name fields in digitized titles (i.e. 752 values)
                – alphabetize titles within states
                – a bug associated with Ethnicity and Language filters (dependent on MARC record values) has been fixed

Be sure to check out Chronicling America, including our Vermont titles …. and the new interactive map that provides a geographical view of Vermont newspapers that have been digitized.

Happy reading!
 – Birdie MacLennan

Our first title

Our first title selected for digitization under our NDNP grant doubles as our sample reel. We sent this reel to our potential project partner vendors as part of the RFP process. It is referred to as a “sample reel” because each of the potential vendors will create a batch of images from the microfilm as part of the evaluation for the RFP. Because it will be used for this dual purpose, the title we chose had to fulfill certain important criteria: it would preferably be a short run that fits all on one reel, the location of the master negative had to be known, and–most importantly–the title has to be historically important and interesting.

After some deliberation and searching, we found a title that meets all of these requirements:

The Vermont Farmer (St. Johnsbury, VT).

The Vermont Farmer is noteworthy in several ways. Prudence Doherty, University of Vermont Special Collections Librarian and VTDNP Project Management Team member, researched the background of The Vermont Farmer. Prudence located this wonderful article detailing the background of the title and its remarkable editor:

“Dr. Thomas H. Hoskins was born in Gardiner, Maine, on May 14, 1828, son of Henry Box Hoskins, a paper manufacturer there for forty years and twice Mayor. Following a very interesting career as a physician and surgeon in and around Boston, Massachusetts, after graduating from Louisville, Kentucky, Medical School in 1866, Dr. Hoskins received a severe spinal injury from a fall on the ice, which incapacitated him for his professional work. Soon after, at the invitation of his friends Henry Keyes and Carlos Pierce, he came to Newport to regain his health. While here, the idea occurred to him that the lake region would be a good place for fruit raising. While practicing at the Boston Dispensary he had also worked as an editorial writer on the Boston Courier. He was the author of “A Treatise on the Adulteration of Food.” Dr. Hoskins  became the Agricultural Editor of the Newport Express and an expert on agriculture and horticulture.

Dr. Hoskins established a nursery at West Derby about 1868 in the Hoskins Avenue area and began experimenting with many varieties. He bought a farm in Newport Center where he developed a twelve-acre orchard and in 1890 bought 135 acres in Derby to develop one of the best orchards in New England with nearly one hundred varieties of apple trees. He attempted constantly to find the best apples to withstand the cold climate and apple trees and fruit from his nursery were readily sold. He introduced the Yellow Transparent, Scott’s Winter, Tetoffsky, the Dutchess, the Wealthy, and Newport apples. He propagated the Vermont Wonder Pea and Snowflake Potato.

In 1870 Dr. Hoskins started printing the Vermont Farmer at Newport and after two years moved it to St. Johnsbury where for four years he served as Editor with Royal Cummings as Publisher. The newspaper reached a circulation of four thousand. For two years the doctor was a member of the State board of Agriculture and contributed to the Vermont Horticultural Society records now at the University of Vermont. For twenty years he was Agricultural Editor of the Watchman and a contributor to the Rurual New Yorker, Garden and Forest, American Gardening, and other journals. His work in the nursery required money, patience, and experience over many years but he is now best remembered for the McIntosh Red apple. In 1868 Dr. Hoskins bought from the John McIntosh family nursery in Dundela, Ontario,  a McIntosh apple tree which he planted in his orchard in Newport Center. This was the first McIntosh sapling planted in the United States. It is !
still living and bearing fine fruit on the Gilbert C. Whipple farm where he planted it. His work in horticulture has been continued by the University of Vermont Extension Service which has recently developed a new and improved strain of apples, called The Imperial.

Dr. Hoskins, at the age of eighteen, married Mary Jane Harrington of Boston, and after her death married Caroline A. Strong, also of Boston, who died a year later in childbirth. His third wife, Malona A. Pino of Georgia, Vermont, became the mother of his six children. In 1896 only one was still living, Mabel C., the wife of the Reverend J.B. Spires who resigned his pastorate to assist Dr. Hoskins in his fruit farming and nursery.

The Reverend Spires was born in 1862 at Reems Station, Dinwiddie County, Virginia, where his father was a Methodist clergyman and practicing physician. He graduated from Boston Theological Seminary in June, 1890, and soon married Mabel Hoskins. The Reverend Spires and Dr. Hoskins made a specialty of rhubarb, asparagus, and fruits, but their main business, beside selling many trees, was the sale of apples and small fruits. Their business increased steadily and they maintained their excellent reputation as orchardists. Dr. Hoskins possessed a vigorous and original personality.”

[Citation forthcoming, p. 155-156, from a Vermont state history book]

Besides the notable change of career from surgeon to horticulturalist after his spinal injury, it is fascinating that Dr. Hoskins introduced the McIntosh Red apple to the United States! The Vermont Farmer should provide researchers with an informative window into agricultural thought and practice in Northeast Vermont in the 1870s.

Some notes on the article: Newport and Derby are located within five miles of the Quebec, Canada border in Northeastern Vermont. The “lake region” referred to in the article is the area around Lake Memphremagog, which straddles the U.S.-Canada border. St. Johnsbury–where the publication of the Vermont Farmer moved in 1872–is about 40 miles southeast of Newport near the New Hampshire border.

– Tom McMurdo, VTDNP Project Librarian