Theatres, Public Halls and Tea Gardens in Leavenworth, Kansas
From: History of Leavenworth County, Kansas
BY: Jesse A. Hall and Leroy T. Hand
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka, Kansas 1921


THE first theatre was in a sort of composite building on the southeast entrance of Third and Delaware streets where the wholesale china and crockery store of Knapp & Bollman now stands. A two story frame building 42x75 to 80 feet in length, with a meat market (the first in town as I remember) in front on Delaware street. A public hall in the rear fronting on Third street, and a theatre on the second floor over all. This building was erected in the fall of 1856. The theatre was not permanently established till 1857. It flourished with varied success during that year and until the fall of 1858, when one night after the performance had closed, a fire broke out, supposed to be in one of the dressing rooms, and not only destroyed that building but extended along Delaware street on the south side to the Grazier building now occupied as the Endress stove store. The Grazier Bros. had just completed and furnished their ice cream and confectionary parlors and a first night entertainment was being given by them when the fire broke out in all its fury and destruction. It soon swept across Delaware street at the corner of Third street opposite, first attacking Dr. Park's drug store, then Beechless' shoe store, J. B. Davis furniture store, Weaver & Seaman's dry goods store, Currier & McCormick's store, Conway's boarding house, all on the north side of Delaware street, where it ceased for want of material. It also crossed the alley in the rear north of Delaware street and burned a number of buildings on both sides of Shawnee street from Third street east and only ceased its devastation on Seneca street for want of material to consume. There was little or no insurance in the town in those days and the total loss in buildings and stocks of goods was very large. We had no organized fire department in those days, and were entirely dependent upon bucket brigades of citizens to pass water by hand, from wells, or from the river if the fire was near there.

The next theatre was of the variety or vaudeville kind, owned and operated by the Goddard Bros., on Shawnee street below Fifth street, north side, about where Cory's fruit and fish store was, this was in 1863 and '64. It was a great success and very popular while it existed, but fire, that demon of destruction, that inveterate foe of theatres and mills at all times, claimed this as one of its victims and one night, without warning, took it into its capacious maw.

The third, and really the only legitimate first class theatre, exclusively as such, which has been maintained in the city was the old Thorn Theatre, on the southwest corner of Fourth and Delaware streets. It was built in 186- for a theatre by old man Thorn, who was a first class actor of the legitimate turn, as were his whole family, Mrs. Thorn, Miss Mestazer, his two sons - a first class Stock Company - Geo. Chaplin, Mr. and Mrs. Walters, George Burt and wife and a number of others. Old man Thorn built a nice country residence and named it Thorn Hill, out on top of the ridge northwest of the city to which place the family retired in the summer. It was a popular place of resort and the family were very hospitable and splendid entertainers. The theatre was a great success for a series of years. The very best actors in the country with their companies visited our city, not for one night stand only but for a week. Our people patronized and appreciated first class entertainments. In time the theatre became dingy and unkempt, first class companies ceased to visit us on that account and the theatre passed into the sear and yellow leaf and was abandoned as a theatre and the building changed into a store room.

Our present opera house on the south side of Shawnee street between Fifth and Sixth streets, was built a few years ago by a Stock Company of our enterprising citizens who fully realized that a city of this size ought to have a properly constructed and well arranged opera house worthy of the name which would command the attention of good companies and insure the patronage of our people. The result was the immediate building of the above opera house.


The first Public Hall was on the north side of Delaware street between Second and Third, next west of the McCracken building, which was then a two story stone building. The hall was in the second story of a frame building long since passed away. It was built in the fall of 1855. Public meetings were held there, and church services by denominations who had not yet constructed places of worship. It was also used as a ballroom where the young people met to trip the light fantastic toe. If I mistake not the city council held its meetings there for a time. It was a very popular hall for quite a length of time until larger and more convenient halls were constructed.

The second and by far the largest and the finest hall in the city for a number of years was Melodeon Hall. It was in the third story of a splendid pressed brick front building on the north side of Cherokee street between Main and Second streets, the third lot west of the alley opposite the old Union Stove Works. The building was 24x100 feet and built by a Cincinnati firm, Springer & Fries. Phillip Rothschild occupied the first story as a clothing store and U. S. court room offices in the second story and a magnificent hall the entire length except ante rooms in the rear. High ceiling papered and frescoed overhead in fine taste. It was built in 1857. It was a very popular hall for balls and first class entertainments. The Knights of Malta used it at one time as their meeting hall, and expended a large sum of money in fitting it up with fine carpets, chandeliers, chairs, throne, gorgeous dresser and all the paraphernalia belonging to the order and its officers in their grand initiation and conferring degrees upon members as well as their midnight marches through the streets of the city. Probably no society or organization, especially alone founded on mirth, fun and frivolity, was ever so popular or had so many members in every city in the United States of any respectable size as did this organization. It grew and flourished like a green bay tree for a number of years until that unfortunate accident in New York City when a party who was being initiated, by the breaking of a portion of the hoisting or sliding apparatus, was precipitated from a considerable height to the floor and killed outright. This cast a damper upon the order, the New York pictorial papers published gross caricatures of its conferring degrees and the accident above, only served to emphasize the carelessness and danger claimed by its enemies. The religious papers inveigled against the order and called upon the police and courts to interfere as there was no special merit, only an organization gotten up for fun and recreation with just enough mystery about it to attract continued accession of new members, but as soon as it became to be discussed in a serious manner by the newspapers all the fun and humor evaporated and in a few months most of the lodges were broken up or ceased to attract. The furniture and apparatus was sold, and the Knights of Malta were among the has beens passed into song and story. A few years after Melodeon Hall building was entirely destroyed by fire.

The third hall in the city was the far famed Stockton Hall erected on the southwest corner of Fourth and Delaware streets, where the Leavenworth National Bank now stands, in 1857. It was a frame building 45x120 feet in depth along Fourth street, store rooms below and a lofty story above. It was so arranged that it could be, and frequently was used by theatrical troupes that visited our city in those early days. Capt. Job B. Stockton, quite a prominent public spirited citizen and hustler, after whom the hall was named, was the owner and proprietor. When the war broke out the Captain raised a company and joined the Grand Army of the Republic to aid in subduing the rebellion. Probably one of the most interesting meetings or conventions ever held in the state or territory was the one held in the above hall in the summer of 1858, for the purpose of organizing the Democratic party. There had been several attempts made previous, at Topeka, Lawrence, Tecumseh and Lecompton but all had failed to unite the conflicting elements, now that the question of slavery in the territory had been virtually settled in favor of freedom. The Topeka constitution had been ignored by Congress, the Lecompton constitution repudiated by the people. The first Free State Territorial Legislature had been elected the fall before, met, repealed the bogus laws (as they were called) of the Missouri elected Legislature of the territory of 1855, and substituted another and more acceptable code of laws and practice, both civil and criminal, in their stead. The Democrats of the territory who had formerly been Democrats in the several states from whence they came to Kansas, and also many old line Whigs, all who believed in the principles of the Douglas Kansas-Nebraska Bill, in opposition to the extreme Pro Slavery views of the Southern oligarchy on the one side and the fanatical John Brown spirit of intolerance on the other. Such parties, I say, were anxious to try and get together, to unite upon a common platform if possible, in consonance with the true principles of Democracy, the greatest good to the greatest number, freedom of thought, freedom of action, in all things divested of unbridled license, as taught by the fathers of the Republic. Among those present on that memorable occasion were Ex-Gov. Shannon, Col. A. J. Osacks, Ex-Secretary of the Territory, Hugh Walsh, Col. C. K. Holladay, Ex. Gov. Roberts, Col. J. R. McClure, Joel K. Gooden, E. C. K. Garvey, W. R. Frost, Col. Thos. Thornton, Judge Sharp and P. V. Lane of Wyandotte, Perry Fuller, Ben McDonald, Col. Robt. Mitchell, Col. Vanderalier, Col. Irwin, P. H. Badger, C. F. Currier, Dr. James Davis, 0. B. Holman, John A. Halderman, H. B. Dennan, Gen. J. C. Stone and a number of other Democrats. H. T. Green, J. W. Crancer, B. S. Richards, Jerry Clark, Gen. Geo. W. McLane, the writer of this, and many other old line Whigs were present. A platform was drawn up, and afterwards some amendments to suit the views of all parties present, was unanimously adopted and signed and this was the origin of the Democratic party in Kansas. For a number of years following, it took considerable nerve for a man who had been a prominent and active Free State man during the early troubles in Kansas and especially in Leavenworth, to acknowledge that he was a Democrat. It made no difference to some of those worthies, what a man might have suffered in property or person or how great had been his sacrifices for the Free State cause, if he dared to exercise his personal perogatives as a free born American citizen and declare himself a Douglas Democrat, he was denounced as a traitor and a Pro Slavery supporter. The men who did and said these things were principally newcomers to the territory, parties who had remained at their homes in northern states at a safe distance from the scene of danger during the days of strife and bloody turmoil in Kansas. The spirit they evinced was of the same grade as the redshirted ruffians of 1855 and '56 except that cold blooded murder was not in their hearts, at least not in their actions; they bridled their hands if not their tongues. Stockton Hall like so many public buildings in those days fell a prey to the devouring flames.

The fourth hall built, if I mistake not, was the old Turner Hall, northeast corner of Sixth and Delaware streets. It was a very popular hall, especially with our German citizens and their friends. Henry Deckelman was the first president of the Turner society and so remained for a number of years. Many a pleasant entertainment was held in that old hall, theatrical, musical, mirth and dancing. The hall is still standing, although much in the sear and yellow leaf. It was for a long time occupied by J. W. Brown as a livery stable and later as an humble carpenter shop. Bachus, Gambrinus, Apollo, Thespias and Terpischore are no longer worshiped at this once sacred shrine, their temple is defiled, their altars have been destroyed, or were perchance by their faithful followers removed to a more congenial and much pleasanter spot within whose sacred precincts they could enlarge and beautify their temple, erected on the northeast corner of Shawnee and Broadway, and add to its surroundings a beautiful garden, where beneath the umbrageous shade of its lofty oaks they could, with their families and friends, hold sweet communion with the spirit of the faderland, so far away, across the deep blue sea, and as they listened to the soft and gentle music of the sweet toned violin and the lute and sipped the foaming nectar of the gods, their hearts in rapture dwelt, as they thanked the Great Spirit of the past that had guided them on their weary way to this land of freedom they so much love. A few years ago, fire, that fatal fiend, as we have so often said, in an evil hour, laid its deathly grip upon this temple of mirth and song and soon it was but a mass of ruins. But Phoenix like, with the proud spirit of true men who never say die, their noble temple has risen from its ashes, larger and much more complete in all its details, a fitting and worthy monument to the push and energy of its founders and promoters.

(From Leavenworth Times, July 20, 1898)

The old frame building which stood for more than thirty years at the northeast corner of Sixth and Delaware streets, stands there no longer. Its destruction was completed yesterday, and with the removal of the old boards there passes another of the historic landmarks of Leavenworth.

Erected in 1857 by the Turner society, it was their proud boast that they possessed in the building one of the largest and finest halls in the West. More improvements were added to the structure after it had been partially destroyed by fire a few years later, among them being a stage and theatre equipment, and many an itinerant opera troupe held forth there to the delight of the early settlers. The building also served as the dance hall for the city.

As the city enlarged and the people became more exacting in their demands, the Turner society out grew the old hall and sought more commodious quarters in their new frame building erected on the corner of Broadway and Shawnee streets. The Turners still occupy the old site, but fire and time so injured the frame structure that it has recently given place to a handsome brick block.

The late Henry Deckelman, who ran a jewelry store here in the early days, was the first president of the Turner society in Leavenworth, but there are few now living who participated in the opening of the old hall.

The Turners were all pronounced Free State men, and their old hall was used as a Free State meeting house. There political conventions were held, and public speaking of not the most peaceful kind imaginable. There were stirring elections held there in those days too. In one of these Judge H. Miles Moore, then the young acting colonel, of the 5th Kansas, figured conspicuously.

It was n 1862, just when the "Red Legs" were at the full height of their fame. The "Red Legs" were a band of notorious horsemen, among them, "Wild Bill," "Red Clark," Captain Swain, the St. Claire boys, and a dare devil named Cleaveland. They posed as deputy United States marshals, claiming that they were engaged in regulating the affairs of the western country, but in reality they were border ruffians for the most part whose principal business was horse stealing.

Nearly all these notorious "Red Legs" were surrounding the polls in front of Turner hall on this territorial election day in '62. They had put up a ticket of their own and proposed to shove it through whether the people wanted it or not.

Colonel H. Miles Moore was riding by Turner hall and heard a loud outcry. There was an Irishman attempting to elbow his way through a crowd of "Red Legs" who set upon him and beat him back.

"What's the matter, Pat?" asked Colonel Moore.

"Be jabers, Moore," shrieked the Irishman, "Oi want to vote an' they won't let me."

Moore leaped from his horse and drew forth two large revolvers. Pointing them into the crowd, he said, "Here, let that man vote. I know that man and he has just as much right to vote as I have."

The Irishman voted and so did Colonel Moore, although he had had no intention of doing so before he saw how the "Red Legs ' were trying to run things, but that riled him, as he remarked afterwards.

"Give me a ticket," demanded the Colonel, and the "Red Legs" in front of the two revolvers hastened to obey.

"Now, what ticket are you voting?" asked Moore of a burly "Red Legs.' "I want to know so that I can vote the other one."

Those were great days for Turner hall, but now it has been torn down after having been used as a livery stable and later as a carpenter's shop, until pronounced unsafe. The stables were run by Brown & Lecompte, the latter being a son of the first Chief Justice of Kansas.

The next public hall built in the city was Lainge Hall on the southwest corner of Fourth and Delaware streets in the third story of the Laing building. It was without doubt the largest and most commodious hall in the city, being 48x125 feet, lofty ceilings, well lighted and convenient of access. Religious, political and other meetings were often held in it, but the proprietor, Deacon Laing, was always opposed to and would never allow it to be used for balls and dancing parties. Within the past few years it has been remodeled and is now used as the Masonic Temple where all the different branches of the order hold their regular meetings.

The hall in the Odd Fellows' building second floor, southeast corner of Sixth and Shawnee streets and known as Odd Fellows' Hall has from its first erection in the early sixties been a very popular hall, 44x120 feet For a series of years it was often occupied for public meetings, religious, social and political, but of late it has almost exclusively been used for balls and dancing parties. Its central location, ease of access, internal arrangement, elegant size and appointments which go to make up a first class dancing hall will continue its popularity especially with the young people of the city.

Of Chickering Hall and the G. A. R. Hall I need not speak at this time as they cannot be classed among things of early days of which we are writing.


The first and gayest of these free and easy resorts of early days beginning with 1855 and ending with the close of the war, was located on the southwest corner of Second and Cheyenne streets and known as Stahl's Garden. When in full bloom and perfume she was a daisy, always wide open from early morn till dewy eve, and early morn again, "the last chance" to the fort and "the first chance" to the town and "always a chance," for those who wanted fun, a schooner of beer, good music, a dance and a general good time. About election times it was red hot. True, at certain times, it was a little tough, but that was the inevitable result of that class of people who are the advance guard in all frontier towns and especially in towns where cowboys, bull whackers and mule drivers predominate, and near a government Post like Fort Leavenworth, in those days, where hundreds of them were employed in the spring time in those immense mule trains of the government and ox wagon trains of that great firm of Majors, Russell & Waddell, freighters of government army stores across the plains, and who made this city their headquarters and starting point, (of which I shall speak more in detail at another time), and again on their return here in the autumn. Is it surprising that they made things a little lively around old Stahl's Garden and kindred places on such occasions. These were the Mosaic's in the broad platform of unrestrained liberties and almost unbridled licenses in those wide open western towns in those early days. In passing the old uninhabited and tumble down rookery and the dilapidated garden and its forlorn surroundings, one unacquainted with its former prestige would scarcely credit the fact this was for a number of years the gayest and liveliest resort of its kind in the town, with a cash income every twenty four hours according to the season, of not less than $200 to $400. It run wide open at all times, nights and Sundays included, it was so far removed from the churches and the business portion of the city, that the conviviality of its frequenters did not disturb the quiet and decorum of the rest of the city and its inhabitants

Another garden that was at times a little gay, but nothing to be compared with the wide open revelry and debauchery of Stahl's Garden, was for years located on the southeast corner of Olive and Broadway, and known as John Ebenger s Garden. Here seats were placed under the fruit and shade trees and grape arbor. There were swings, vaulting bars, bowling alleys and other accessories of a pleasant resort, to amuse and entertain visitors. Of course a good band was in attendance and discoursed sweet music, especially on Sunday afternoons and evenings and holidays during the summer season. It was quite a favorite resort with many of our citizens who sought recreation and amusement in this direction.

Another and by far the most popular garden in those days long ago, was Washington Garden situated well out in the then southwestern portion of the city in Benz Addition, now probably Insley & Shoyer's sub-division west of Ninth street and south of Quincy street, so called. There were no streets laid out in that part of the city except Broadway and that was but a country road or highway, it was an open prairie west to Pilot Knob hill except where a small tract of a few acres was fenced and cultivated in sparse localities. Washington Garden embraced several acres of land surrounded by a fence, well laid out with walks and drives, fruit and shade trees, arbors and flower beds, swings, bowling and shooting alleys, vaulting bars and other accessories necessary for athletic exercises. A fine band stand in the garden and a platform for dancing. A quiet, refined and lovely place for a few hours recreation or a days' outing with a party of congenial friends. It was a popular place for picnics for Sunday schools and other societies, and a quiet resort for an evening drive. It was always liberally patronized by the better class of our citizens in the slimmer season who sought quiet recreation and amusement. There was no unseemly noise or rowdyism. That class of people found no congenial spirits among the class of people of taste and refinement who visited it. Alas times have changed in forty years and we, the people, change with them. All of the places of resort and pleasure above referred to have long since passed away and scarcely a stone is left to mark the spot and most of the actors and participants in those gay and festive scenes have left our city or crossed over to that bourne from which no traveler returns.

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