Address: 101-105 South Main Street
Architectural Style: Italianate
Year Built: 1851; expanded c. 1880
Architect/Builder: Unknown
Original Owner: Dr. Ebenezer G. Woodward

The Woodward Opera House claims the title as America's oldest authentic 19th-century theater, and is one of Mount Vernon's most significant cultural treasures.  The front portion of the Woodward Block was originally constructed by Dr. Ebenezer G. Woodward, and housed a small meeting hall and stage on the 4th floor.  During this time, the building was also home to many prominent newspapers, including the Democratic Banner.  Because of all the necessary printing equipment located within this building, the Woodward Block is an ideal candidate for having been the place where Amelia Bloomer published her newspaper, The Lily, during her 1854 sojourn in Mount Vernon.

Dr. Woodward decided to expand his building in the late-1870s, incorporating the three-story building to the rear to form the Woodward Block as it appears today.  This expansion provided space for the Woodward Opera House, completed in the early-1880s.  The Opera House, located on the 3rd and 4th floors, retains its original mid-19th century appearance.

Mount Vernon native Daniel Decatur Emmett, "Uncle Dan" to his friends, is a nationally celebrated musician and composer of many well-loved songs, most famously "Dixie."  He gave his final farewell performance to theatrical life on the Woodward Opera House stage in 1902.

The first moving picture shown in Mount Vernon was in 1895, in the Woodward Opera House, which was the leading entertainment hall of the day.

Mount Vernon is home to several inventors, perhaps none so innovative as Dr. William F. Semple, who occupied the northeast corner office on the 2nd floor of the Woodward Block for over 30 years.  On December 29, 1869, Dr. Semple received a United States Patent for "improved chewing-gum."  While he is often credited with being the first to patent chewing gum (which had already been around for many years), Amos H. Tyler of Toledo, Ohio, filed his chewing-gum patent five months earlier than Dr. Semple.  However, it would be correct to say that Dr. Semple was the first to patent flavored chewing gum, by adding ingredients such as licorice root, myrrh, sugar, and charcoal to make his product more savory to his patients.  Dr. Semple believed that his chewing gum would not only strengthen the user's jaw muscles, but that the abrasives contained within the substance would help to clean plaque from the teeth.  In addition to improvements of chewing gum, Dr. Semple is credited for patenting the rolling map-holder in 1891, a device used in may classrooms throughout the world, as well as receiving two patents for the precursor to the modern inhaler, in 1882 and 1883.

This massive Italianate structure stands four stories high, and is as much a giant today as when it was originally constructed in 1851.  The wide overhanging cornice is supported by large, simple wood brackets.  Nearly all of the window panes are original poured-glass, with a handful of panes replaced with modern poured glass replicas.  The originally three-story building at the rear of the Block, along Plum Alley, also has Italianate features, though from a later time period and not consistent with the main portion of the structure.  The windows of this rear section are narrower and have elaborate arched stone hoodmolds.  There are two ground-level storefronts in the east facade, facing South Main Street, both of which have deeply recessed entrances that retain their historic circa-1916 configurations and wide Luxfer glass transoms.  The storefronts at the rear of the building retain thin, cast-iron columns.

 


 

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