1883 - Present Day
The Beginning 1883
Around 1883, the Village of Walton built a hall containing village offices, a firehouse, and an opera hall where today’s Walton Theatre stands. On the evening of Dec. 10, 1912, the hall burned to the ground, causing the fire bell to fall through the burned out structure and crack upon impact. That bell was ultimately recast and rehung at a cost of $200.
Image: Original Village Hall 1907. (Source: eBay)
Rebuild after the Fire 1913
Village Clerk's Office, Theatre and Fire Department
Insurance provided only $8,000 with which to rebuild, so in March of 1913, architect William T. Towner designed the Richardsonian Revival Hall that stands today. By June of that year, it was apparent that the appropriation was insufficient, so a referendum was scheduled for June 21, when residents were asked to approve another $15,000.
For the first time, women were allowed to vote in a general election, and the passage of the measure was dwarfed by the other headline details: “Referendum passes; women vote for the first time; only three ballots ruined!” The village hall would ultimately cost $57,460.67 to build, housing the theater, the village clerk’s office, and — for many years — the Walton Fire Department.
Image: Historical map of Walton, NY. (Source: World Maps Online)
Grand Opening 1914
The grand opening generated such interest in the area that a special train from Delhi was added to the regular schedule to accommodate theatergoers. A picture of the event shows a packed house and balcony, and a live orchestra, with many people standing in openings in back of the audience and along the side aisles.
Image: Postcard advertising “Within the Law” which debuted in 1912. (Source: Wikipedia)
Circuit Troupes and Movie House
Often in the early days, circuit troupes came to the theatre, and along with local actors, mounted lavish productions, both musical and dramatic. Pictures taken from the time reveal lush tableaux and costuming, all of which arrived with the troupe.
Many area residents grew up in the theatre during its heyday as a movie house. A local farmer remembers coming to the movies on Friday nights when other farmers, fresh from the barn, would take advantage of their only night out for a quarter a ticket. “The smell in here was pretty ripe,” he recalls, “but you didn’t always have time to get cleaned up before you came out to the movies.”
Image: Early choral production on main stage.
Speakers and Events
The Walton Theatre has been host to many notable speakers and events over the years. One Walton resident remembers going to the Theatre to hear Theodore Roosevelt speak. She remembers a sense of great disappointment. “His voice was small and squeaky,” she recalls. “Not that of a Rough Rider at all!”
Many residents recall their graduations and class nights held on the stage of the Walton Theatre, while many reunions since have chosen to donate to its restoration. In the 1960s the movie screen was permanently moored to the stage, an act that was reversed by the Walton Theatre Preservation Association many years later on its mission to restore live stage productions and the Theatre’s originally intended wide range of use.
Image: Walton Theatre saluting local Boy Scouts, 1940. (Source: Cinema Treasures)
Changing with the Times
The Walton Theatre has gone through many phases over the years, hosting professional troupes of Vaudeville players and the likes of film star Tom Mix. Live productions alternated with movies, which were shown since September of 1914, but thrived under the hand of area theater mogul, William Smalley, who leased the space in 1923 and maintained it for many years. The Walton Theatre changes with the times while never changing its history and its place in our community of Walton, New York.
Image: Theatre façade, 2020.
National Register of Historic Places 1984
The Walton Theatre was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 under the Gardiner Place Historic District. Two years later, on April 21, 1986, then-mayor Raymond Baldi established the Walton Theatre Restoration Committee to oversee the restoring of the Theatre to its former glory. In the 72 years since its opening, the Theatre had fallen into disrepair, prompting the Committee’s establishment, and now, 34 years later, we continue the work that they started in 1986.
For more info about the Walton Theatre Preservation Association (previously the Restoration Committee) and their past and present projects, visit their page.
Image: Fundraising for projector, 2012.