Assion-Ruffing City Hall

Assion-Ruffing City Hall as construction nears completion, ca. 1865

Construction began on the Assion-Ruffing building in 1864 by Mr. Cook from Lafayette for merchants Joseph Assion and John Ruffing. Never a government building, it was named 'City Hall' for the grand hall on its third floor with a free span measuring 58' by 60'.

The first event in the hall was a ball held on June 16, 1865 for Company B, 86th Indiana Volunteers and other soldiers returning home from the Civil War. A few weeks later another ball was held there to celebrate the 4th of July.

Balls were held frequently in the Hall, as were lectures, dinners, concerts, demonstrations, and other entertainments.

In August 1870, John Lathrope, Jr. opened a bakery, confectionery, and farmers lunch room in the No. 1 block of the City Hall Building. The painting and papering of the rooms were noted in the Delphi Times for the quality of the workmanship.  Lathrope was also a renowned cornetist having served as bugler and captain of the 9th Volunteer Regimental Band during the Civil War. Lathrope's Silver Cornet Band was a musical institution in Delphi and the surrounding area. In 1881, John Lathrope, Jr. partnered with John Ruffing to remodel the third floor of City Hall into a grand opera house.

Lathrope & Ruffing Opera House

By 1881 the Delphi newspapers are reporting on work to transform City Hall into an Opera House. Barnett and Mohr put a tin roof on City Hall in 1881. John Ennis was hard at work in December 1881 on the “scenery, curtains, etc. for Lathrope’s opera house.” In February the remodeling is rapidly approaching completion. New steps are built in March 1882 to facilitate access all the way to the street. 

Lathrope served as the impresario for the opera house and commissioned performers to appear on its stage. On April 7, 1882, the Lathrope and Ruffing Opera House had its grand opening, featuring the Litta Grand Opera Company with the famous soprano Marie Litta as prima donna, performing to a packed house of 500.

 

Rooms were rented by Lathrope in the adjacent Greenup building (later the Crosby Hotel) and used as dressing  rooms for the performers. An opening at the rear of the stage provided access via a short stair to the rooms on the fourth floor. Actor signatures from the late 1800s and early 1900s grace the backstage wall of the opera house stage wall and the dressing room walls in the adjacent building.

Lathrope & Ruffing Opera House, 1888

Signatures and playbills, fourth floor of Brookbank-Greenup-Crosby building adjacent to the Delphi Opera House.

For the next two decades the opera house was a heavily-used performance venue with traveling theatre and minstrel companies, lecturers, concerts, local dramatic presentations—even graduation ceremonies.

During the early 1900s the Delphi Dramatic Club produced a new play each month at the Delphi Opera House. The club numbered more 120 and included many prominent Delphi families.

Delphi Opera House, 1900

Delphi Opera House, ca. 1910s
Note that change in wall finishings and theatrical seating from earlier photographs. Also note the simple electric light fixtures.

Following a fire at the Dreyfus Theater in Lafayette, Indiana in 1914, the fire marshal closed upper story gathering spaces with only one means of egress. The Delphi Opera House was shuttered and eventually became a storage room and woodworking area for first-floor retail shops.

Over the years leaks in the roof led to damaged wallpapers and plaster. Broken windows allowed pigeons to make the once grand balcony railing their roosting spot. The photo at right shows what theater had become by 1994 as the Delphi Preservation Society became involved.

Delphi Opera House, 1994

CAPTAIN JOHN LATHROPE
1841 - 1917   

Born in Penzance England, John Lathrope immigrated to the U.S. in 1851, living first near Boston, Mass. Already an accomplished musician at age 10, John traveled to the Lafayette area via canal, his father having secured passage providing entertainment for the passengers and crew. His family worked on several small farms in the area before moving to Delphi in 1858 and becoming prominent property owners and business proprietors.

MARIE LITTA
1856 1883     

Debuting in Paris in 1878, Marie Litta quickly won both acclaim from the music world and the hearts of her audiences. Frequently compared to Jenny Lind for the quality of her voice, her career was short-lived as she fell ill while touring in 1883. She returned to her home in Bloomington, Illinois, where she died at the age of 27. During her illness, the New York Times carried frequent updates on her health...such was her renown in the music world.

JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY 
1849 - 1916    

Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley gave at least six performances in the Lathrope & Ruffing Opera House, the first in December, 1882. Riley frequented Delphi having made good friends here, including Dr. Wycliffe Smith and Elizabeth Fisher Murphy.

Several poems about the area were penned by Riley including "From Delphi to Camden" and "On the Banks O' Deer Crick."

WALTER B. ROGERS
1865 - 1939        

Delphi native Walter B. Rogers received his early cornet instruction from John Lathrope before studying composition and performance at the Cincinnati Conservatory. Following soloist stints in Indianapolis, he returned to Delphi in 1883-1884 playing in Lathrope's Silver Cornet band. Rogers then soloed with the John Philip Sousa band for several years and later became the first music director of the Victor Phonograph Company.

Faces upon the stage...

© 2019 by Delphi Preservation Society, Inc. • P.O. Box 161 • Delphi, IN 46923  delphipreservationsociety@gmail.com

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