Built in 1894, the Camden Opera House was once the tallest building in Knox County. The massive building was also home to several businesses and a businessman's club. Willis Carleton, a lifelong resident of Rockport who painted stage scenery in New York for many years, decorated the interior, highlighting in stereo relief in gold and white on the arch, balcony front and loge boxes. The auditorium itself, 36 feet by 33 feet and complete with a set of scenery and opera chairs, boasted a kitchen, ticket office and checkroom to the left of the main landing; on the right were individual rooms. A 45 hp steel tubular boiler provided steam heat, and the auditorium, like the rest of the building, was lighted with electricity. The curtains, a delicate shade of brown, matched the decorations furnished by Follansbee and Wood of Camden.
Opening night, June 6, 1894 featured the Boston Opera Company's performance of "Maritama", followed by a grand ball with music by the company orchestra topped off by dessert served in the Banquet Hall. W.P. Gould waited in line for three hours to have the honor of buying the first ticket. In the following weeks, the hall was booked by the Justin Adams Co., whose scenery arrived from the firm of L.J. Couch and Co. of Boston, and the Vinalhaven fire station, which presented a demonstration drill, followed by a ball.
In the early 1900's, three short movies were shown Saturday evenings with a dance held after the show to the tunes of an orchestra playing from the orchestra pit. Traveling shows arrived, including the 1908 sensational melodrama entitled "How Women Ruin Men". Gladys Kirk and her entourage appeared in 1919 for one night only; the advertisement for their show read "there is nothing left to the imagination."
Firemen's Balls drew big crowds each year. In the 1930's and 1940's the hall hosted many big bands as the foxtrot, waltz and later the Lindy were taught to Camden's youth. Groups of townspeople took part in minstrel shows and Camden schools held plays, speaking contests and graduations. Also in the 1930's Mrs. Mary Curtis Bok (later Zimbalist) turned her philanthropic attention to aiding and maintaining the Opera House. The Curtis School of Music, (later Salzedo) directed by Alice Chalifoux and begun by Carlos Salzedo, taught the harp and presented performances for over 30 years, even hosting a performance to raise funds to aid future Opera House events.
Today the Opera House is home to a variety of events as well as Camden's municipal offices and police station. Our multi-room facility (auditorium and three conference areas) has enabled us to meet the needs of a variety of productions. Local school children still shine in school plays and concerts. The Camden Civic Theatre presents a lively and varied array of community theatre throughout the year. Our stage has hosted many nationally and internationally known performers, including the Eileen Ivers Band, Johnny Winter, Little Feat, Buckwheat Zydeco, John Gorka, Wynton Marsalis, Richie Havens, comedian Bob Marley... the list goes on and on. The Opera House Committee produces shows, and has presented sold-out family shows including Avner the Eccentric and Tomas Kubinek.
Annual Conferences are also a major focus - the Camden Technology Conference (Pop-Tech) – now in their 14th year and the Camden Conference on International Affairs, here now for 23 years have specialized in utilizing the magnificent scenery, inns and restaurants of Camden as a "campus" with the Opera House it's gem in the center for attendees to come and walk from their lodging to the conference to lunch, all in a most beautiful and comfortable setting. Joining them now are film and book festivals.
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