The Kyle Opera House


 Robert Benjamin Kyle, businessman, was born May 24, 1826, at Leakesville, Rockingham County, N.C.
    In 1845, Kyle was engaged as clerk in the dry goods store of J&J Kyle, and in 1846 was taken into co-partnership.
    He sold his interest in that business in 1850 and entered the wholesale grocery business under the firm name of Grimes, Kyle and Thornton.
    In the spring of 1855, Kyle moved to Cherokee County and engaged in planting on the Coosa River.
    He left his farm and moved to Gadsden in September of 1857 and became a merchant and banker. Gadsden at that time had a population of 150 people and contained three small stores.
    Kyle organized a company and built a steamboat for the Coosa River and its tributaries. Gadsden had become a large cotton market at the outbreak of the war of secession, and Kyle had built up a good business.
    In 1861 he opened the first recruiting office for enlistments in regular army of the Confederate States of America in Alabama. In 1862, in connection with Capt. I. P. Moragne, organized a company of volunteer infantry.
    In the organization of the company Kyle was elected first lieutenant. When the regiment was organized at Talladega, the Gadsden company became Company A, with 31 Alabama volunteers.
    Kyle was elected quartermaster of the regiment and served as such until before the battle of Taswell, when his health failed and he was sent to Columbus, Ga. to recuperate.
    As he was not able to resume active duty in the field, Kyle was assigned to duty with Major Frank Dillard, division quartermaster, with headquarters in Columbus, Ga. Kyle remained in that service until the end of the war.
    After the war, Kyle returned to Gadsden and entered the mercantile business.
    Soon after he undertook the construction of the Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad. Later, in connection with W. P. Hollingsworth, Kyle built the Gadsden branch from Attalla.
    He engaged in lumber business in 1870, and from that time until 1912 Kyle successfully operated a sawmill at Gadsden.
    In 1887, with Capt. J. H. Elliott, Jr., he built the Elliot Car company plant. Kyle was connected with that company until it was sold to the Southern Car and Foundry Company.
    Kyle was president of the Gadsden Land and Improvement Company, and held directorship in almost every other incorporated institution at Gadsden.
    Kyle was the first Mayor of Gadsden and was a member of the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1901. He was a Democrat, a Baptist and a Royal Arch Mason.
Kyle’s plans were to build a theater that would be as great as those found in larger cities.
    He purchased land from James Moragne for $300 on May 11, 1880.
    Kyle brought in the finest craftsmen, brick masons and carpenters to the project. The lumber came from his sawmill for the interior.
    The first floor of the building housed the Lowenthall and Hersteig Store.
    On the second and third floors was the Kyle Opera House.
    In November of 1881, the opera house was completed. Carbide gas lit the theater.
    The main entrance was in the middle of the building with steep stair to the main entrance.
    The Kyle Opera House stood on Broad Street between 4th and 5th streets.
    The Kyle family had a whole row of seats at the opera house, which had 800 to 1000 seating capacity.
    The scenery was on rollers and groves.
    The venue featured a roll curtain with beautiful scene drawn on it and one or two advertisements on the side of the curtain.
    Shows came to Gadsden to play at the Kyle opera house if they had a “break” stop between Chattanooga and Birmingham.
    That is the reason the opera house had all kinds of entertainment.
    Some of those shows included Billy Kersand, who could put three billiard balls in his mouth at one time.
    Sarah Bernhardt also played there. Black Pattie was a singer, and her accompanist was “Blind Tom,” who was really blind.
    “Human Hearts” and Dan Packars Opera Company played at the opera house.
    Dan Turrentine leased the Kyle Opera House at one time. “Two Johns,” two fat men whose bellies touched, were a show at one time. They brought their two pug nose dogs as pets with them.
    Mr. Joseph Balfour, a hometown “boy,” played in “Pinafore” the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera.
    Mrs. Stonewall Kyle helped to direct a play that the city clerk was in.
    Also, “Why Smith left Home” and “Thorns and Orange Blossoms” played at the opera house. Al G. Fields minstrels came to Gadsden, and Fields stayed at the Printup Hotel.
    Cobran minstrel played there, as well as 50-inch midgets Mr. and Mrs. Thom Thumb and their two Shetland ponies and a small carriage.
    The opera house averaged one show a week. Tom Lewis hauled the scenery and a man named Josh helped haul trunks.
    Flaggs’ female minstrel came to the venue, and someone got the girls to fighting among themselves in the dressing rooms about the North and South issue.
    James O’Neal played “Quo Vadis,” and the bull in the story was two men comedians, dressed up.
    “Fatal Wedding” and “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” also played at the Kyle Opera House.
    The opera “Faust” company brought its own scenery and orchestra and played at the opera house.
    Will Huston put on a hometown talent minstrel every year and the opera house was the setting.
    Huston made the venue’s first electric signs and made novelty signs for store windows.
    Huston is buried in Forrest Cemetery and is related to the Dupre family of Attalla.
    “Old Homestead with Bonn Thomas and family also played at the venue.
    The well-known Charles Meeks family always sat on the left aisle.
    The average ticket admission to the opera house was for $.75.
    On July 4, 1883, the brick walls of the structure saved Broad Street from being destroyed in a huge downtown fire.
    On March 6, 1911, the building was almost totally destroyed in a spectacular fire.
    The opera house had actually been closed since 1902, with the seats relocated to the courtroom in the “new” Gadsden City Hall.
    The Kyle Opera House was at the present site of Hick’s Shoe Store.

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