Dedication of the Wayne Lyceum Hall, 1871 – Opera House


A long and informative article in last week’s Suburban concerning the refusal by the building inspector of Radnor Township for the remodeling of the old “Opera House” sets forth a number of points of view. Probably there are many in the township who belong in the group “of individuals (who) are in favor of the alterations, both from the aspect of improving the center of the community, and from the viewpoint of preserving it, because of its value as an historical landmark.”

And with its cornerstone laid seventy-nine years ago on the afternoon of July 4, 1871, and with its dedication on Tuesday evening, October 24, of the same year, it may well be called “an historical landmark” of Wayne! That first small square building as pictured in this article is very different from the present edifice with its rambling additions made by the Wayne Estate in 1903 to provide quarters for the post office and with the alterations that followed the disastrous fire of 1914.

Located at the northeast corner of Lancaster Pike and North Wayne avenue, this building, known originally as Wayne Lyceum Hall, was built on ground given by J. Henry Askin, one of the founders of Wayne. Mr. Askin resided in Louella House, the beautiful home on Lancaster PIke which is today known as Louella Court Apartments.

The picture which we are using in this column was taken probably in the early eighties, from a position near the middle of the business block on the south side of the Lancaster Pike. The mansard roof with the figure of “Charity” in the niche between the two chimneys has since been removed and the addition to the west has been added. The scaffolding to the left of the picture is for the large porch then being built to face south and east onto the residence which belonged at that time to Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Fallon. Later it was purchased by Lizzie Pugh Fronefield. The front part of the building was a residence while the back part facing on North Wayne avenue housed the Post Office.

At a later period the wide porch facing east was removed and the part of the porch facing south was incorporated into the building itself. After some years the post-office was moved from this location and the former residence was remodeled into two stores, one on Wayne avenue and the other on the corner. After some modernization done about a year ago the corner property is now occupied by Cobb and Lawless while to the north is the fish market, now operated by Robert Resester.

J.M. Fronefield, III, has identified the figure on the steps of the corner store in the picture of the old “Opera House” as that of his father, Joseph M. Fronefield, Jr., who came to Wayne in 1881 to establish this small country drug store. Under microscopic examination the sign under the window of the store shows that it is one advertising:

Arctic Soda
with choice fruit syrups and
The smaller sign states that it is:
Wayne Pharmacy
Jos. M. Fronefield, Jr.

(It would be interesting to identify other figures in the picture, particularly that of the man and the child. If any one can do so, the information will be given in later issues of this column.)

About a year ago extracts from some memoirs of Mr. Fronefield were published in “Your Town and My Town”. In these memoirs Mr. Fronefield described the Lyceum Hall just as it must have been when this picture was taken. It was, he says, “a plastered mansard-roof house of a dull-grayish brown color, occupied on the first floor by a general country store which sold dry goods, groceries, hardware and farming implements, under the proprietorship of J. Harry Brooke, who many years afterwards was real estate officer of the Merion Title & Trust Company. Mr. Brooke, his clerk, and the writer occupied the green room and stage wings of the auditorium on the second floor for sleeping quarters. More than once my cot and rug were used for stage decorations at the time of concerts.

“The building was piped for gas and had a spring feed gas machine which was under my charge. A barrel of gasoline poured into the outside tank, plus the strength of six mules to wind up the machine, made sufficient lights for months and months.”

On the shelves of our Wayne Memorial Library there is a bound volume of old numbers of the Weekly Wayne Gazette of the years 1871-72. Editors of this paper were John Campbell, Miss Sallie B. Martin and Miss Seba B. Bittle. In the October 28 copy of this Gazette there is a complete description of the “Programme of the Dedication Exercises of Wayne Lyceum Hall, on Tuesday evening, October 24, 1871.”

This dedication was evidently a great occasion in the community. The opening paragraph states that “We certainly must not be considered egotistical in saying the dedication of Wayne Lyceum Hall was most successful. We doubt if an audience larger in numbers or one so highly intelligent has assembled in any public hall in Delaware or Chester county on any occasion. The hall will seat comfortably five hundred persons, including the gallery, and as many oft he audience were standing and others sitting very closely, we can safely say there were over five hundred present.”

There were “introductory remarks” by the president of the Lyceum, J. Henry Askin; a prayer by the Rev. J. H. Watkins; singing of a song “Sunny Hours of Childhood”; a congratulatory address by Miss Lizzie Heysharn and again a song, “Our Meeting.” The dedication of Lyceum Hall was made by Miss Mary C. Everman, secretary of the Lyceum, followed by a dedication prayer by the Rev. C. B. Oakley.

“Popular Education” was the topic of a talk by Miss Sallie B. Martin, who directed the Wayne Lyceum School which was held daily. Then a thirty minute intermission refreshed the audience for two more songs, “Minute Gun at Seat” and “Sleighride Song,” which was followed by the closing address made by the Rev. A. L. Wilson.

All of the addresses, quaint in their wording to present readers and at times pompous as well, are yet full of real feeling occasioned by the completion of a great project carried out by a generous donor, J. Henry Askin. “We comprehend and appreciate this gift of love” according to Miss Everman, in her dedication, “when we contemplate the pleasant gatherings, the intellectual strength attained. Here will the cultivation and development of the mind be produced, which shall not only affect and benefit those who are permitted to congregate within these walls, but its influence shall be felt in generations hence, when scattered here and there upon life’s tempestuous sea.

“The object of the erection of this building has been for the –tension and development of knowledge; and we dedicate it sacred to the promotion of morality, purity and mental development . . . Let that which is just, virtuous and righteous be tolerated within this Lyceum – vice of every kind obliterated.”

The building is described as “built of brick, rough cast in imitation of granite, three stories high, forty by eight feet in dimensions. The first floor contains two large stores, each 20 by 40 feet, and an office the same size. the other room on the same floor (the reading and library room of the Lyceum) is 15 by 40 feet.

“The second floor of the Lyceum Hall is 55 by 40 feet. It has a gallery and a stage with rooms for the president and secretary. A beautiful painted curtain representing “Wayne Hall” of blessed memory and the spring house to the south of it was painted by Mr. Chase, scene painter of the city. The Hall is well lighted with gas, and painted in oak and walnut. The back and side of the stage and the rooms are handsomely papered. Beyond any doubt it is the best arranged and the handsmest Hall in the County.

“The third floor is being finished as a Masonic Hall and is intended to be used for a new Masonic Lodge. It is rather larger than the Hall on the 2nd floor on account of having no stage, and will seat, if fully occupied, at least six hundred people. It is at present receiving the last coat of plaster.

“On the eastern outside front of the Hall, a niche about the 3rd floor, is a beautiful statue representing ‘Charity’.”

Almost eighty years later the list of those who did work on Lyceum Hall or who furnished materials for its construction is a nostalgic one. David S. Gendale, Esq., was the architect; Duncan and Richardson were the carpenters; Capt. O’Byran, the master platerer; John Campbell, the bricklayer; Mahlon H. Rossiter, the stone mason; William Anderson, the marble mason; Thomas Wolf, the painter and glazier; James Mayhood, the tinsmith and roofer; W. Walter, the slater; W. Edwood Rowan, the paperhanger; Mr. Rusi, the upholsterer. Bricks were furnished by Messrs. Gygar and Carroll; marble by Adam and Don; stone by the Wayne Quarries; carpets by the Messrs. McCollum, Sloan and Company; furniture by Mr. Buckley; iron work by Samuel J. Creswell, Jr.

(To be continued)

(To Mrs. Malcolm Sausser, the writer acknowledges her indebtedness in obtaining much of the material for this article. Mrs. Charles T. Mather has kindly lent the original of the picture of the Old Lyceum as herewith reproduced from a copy made by John H. Ansley.)