In a 2-story building situated on the southeast corner of the Gallatin business square, the Arbelia Opera House once operated on the second floor above a saloon on the first floor. It was so named for the wife of John Townsend, who built the building about 1890.
A wide stairway provided the entrance, dividing at the top to provide access to and from the side of the room. There was a balcony all along the rear and opposite there was an adequate stage. Dressing rooms were on either side. There were side curtains and drop curtains. The lights along the front of the stage at first were kerosene lamps with reflectors, but these were later replaced with electric lights. Side lamps with reflectors were also placed along the sides the the stage attached to the wings and later replaced with ceiling electric lights.
In those times companies called “road shows” traveled throughout the country. Bookings far ahead were necessary and companies presented fine, high type entertainment. Lifelong Gallatin native Kathrine Brandom recalled how, as a little girl, she frequently sneaked up the stairs to watch the theatrics. Gallatin proved to be a convenient stop where traveling thespians en route between Chicago and Kansas City could manage a “practice performance.” They would come into town on the train, brought to the hotel by bus where they would remain usually for two to three days.
The leading lady was always most attractive and the leading man — sometimes a villain, true to type. Their fine costumes were transported in old-fashioned trunks and taken immediately to the opera house upon arrival. Costumes were quite beautiful and expensive.
These presentations were considered the ultimate in entertainment, featuring the finest of talent. The opera house would be filled to capacity.
The Townsend building housing Arbelia Opera House burned about 1910, a tragedy marking the end of this type of cultural and educational advantages for people living in this area.
Mr. Townsend also built one of the finest homes in Gallatin where he and his wife raised two sons and one daughter. The home was later the residence of Mrs. Preston Robertson and some time after the Townsend family had gone, it became the home of Gov. A.M. Dockery, who made his home with Mr. and Mrs. E.S. Gregory. This home burned during the winter of 1926.
— Daviess County Historical Society