Goshen Theater History

Goshen Theater History

A Quick Overview

  • 1905 Opened as the Jefferson Theater
  • 1906 Destroyed by fire
  • 1907 Rebuilt and reopened
  • 1948 Converted from playhouse to cinema, renamed “Goshen Theater”
  • 1986 Downtown Goshen in economic decline, theater closes to public
  • 1987-2013 Facility owned and used as a church meeting space
  • 2012 GTI founded; conducts feasibility and market study to evaluate revitalization
  • 2014-2015 GTI purchases building; begins fixing major safety issues
  • 2016 GTI offers limited programming (mostly movies and special events)
  • 2017 GTI launches Phase 1 of the Next Act Fundraising Campaign

Photo credits: Goshen Historical Society

On November 5, 1905, the official dedication of the Jefferson Theater took place. The event was attended by Governor Frank Hanly and the Indiana Attorney General. Prominent citizens from all over southern Michigan and northern Indiana reserved seats.

At 7:30 p.m., the doors opened and 11 ushers escorted delighted ticket holders into the lavish theater which featured green and ivory decor with gold leaf trim, red oak and mahogany. Governor Hanly gave the welcoming address and Richard Mansfield, a famous actor of the time, officially dedicated the Jefferson Theater.

The Goshen News-Times reported that the governor noted in his speech, “Indiana has many splendid cities, many splendid communities and many splendid buildings, but no city the size of Goshen have so splendid a playhouse.”

On December 18, 1906, tragedy struck the magnificent Jefferson Theater. A fire began in the basement of the Stiver and Smith Furniture Store, located next door. Despite the best efforts of local fire departments, the flames eventually consumed the building. The next day, residents learned that the Jefferson had been completely destroyed.

Subsequent to the fire, Patton & Miller Architects, from Chicago, Ill., were hired to rebuild the theater. On October 10, 1907, the rebuilt Jefferson celebrated its grand return by opening to another packed crowd of dignitaries, featuring a performance by one of the top actresses and comedians of the day, Marie Cahill.

The Jefferson was off and running in what would be a rich era in its history. For the next several years, top-notch theatrical troupes made Goshen a stop on their way between New York and Chicago, treating locals to first-rate performances by some of the top actors and actresses of the time. During the off-season the Jefferson remained open, showing silent movies and hosting political and community events.

In 1948, the Jefferson was remodeled with new seats and a new, V-shaped marquee. It was during this installation the theater was re-named the Goshen Theater.