Goodspeed Survives Changes

It was quite a celebration on Oct. 24, 1877.

It was the opening of the Goodspeed Opera House — the six-story wooden Victorian structure on the banks of the Connecticut River in East Haddam, and long before the swing bridge was built. (A ferry was the main means of transportation between banks.)

William Goodspeed, a local entrepreneur and shipyard owner, created a building that combined commerce (general store, post office, dentist's office) and the arts, a stylish, eclectic stop on his steamboat line.

Goodspeed was the theater's producer, too, transporting sets and costumes and performers from New York up the river for one-night engagements.

After Goodspeed died in 1882, the building's performances declined. The last professional show of that era was in 1902 when "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was presented. The downstairs part of the building continued for a while as a local commerce center. During World War I, it was headquarters for the Connecticut militia, then later sold to the New Haven Railroad Company. In the '40s it was purchased by the state, which gutted the front of the building, dismantled the porch and used it as a garage. After World War II it was abandoned entirely. Talk of its demolition in the late '50s spurred local residents Libby Kaye and Mrs. Alfred Howe Terry lead a charge to save the building, and Gov. Abraham Ribicoff supported the restoration of the old opera house.

On June 18, 1963, after a three-year restoration, the Goodspeed Opera House reopened its doors for performances and has been producing musicals there for the past 50 years.