The Ragsdale Opera House served as Newton's main center of entertainment
for nearly 30 years. The grand opening was held on December 8, 1885,
featuring Barney McCauley in the comedy Uncle Dan. Under construction
since May 29, 1884, it was completed at a cost of $80,000. Located on
this corner, the building measured 75 x 150 feet.
The theatre was at the west end of the second and third floors. The
ground floor consisted of six business rooms, one of which was occupied
by Newton's Post Office. Seating capacity of the theatre was 800,
exclusive of eight elegant private boxes which seated five each. There
was a dress circle, a parquet, a balcony, and a gallery, ornamented in
the latest fashions. The stage was 30 x 50 feet and reached from the
stage floor to the top of the building. There were 32 sets of scenery.
The belfry contained a three-faced Seth Thomas clock with a 600 pound
bell that could be heard a distance of two miles on a quiet day. Every
portion of the building was lighted with gas and heated with steam.
The builders, James M. Ragsdale and his brother Thaddeus P. Ragsdale,
quit a small grocery business in 1879 and became successful in real
estate, lumber, cattle, and banking. They became bankrupt in 1890 and
lost possession of the Opera House in 1892. The Opera Block continued to
carry the Ragsdale name until J. H. Knoepker, who purchased the building
on March 1, 1905, renamed it the Knoepker Opera House in 1907.
On January 1, 1915, a fire destroyed the Opera House and several other
businesses on the block.