The revitalization of the Cheshire Theatre

01/25/2024

In the early 1800s the landscape surrounding the Hamlet of Cheshire, NY, was very rural and the family farm was the “enterprise of the day.” At that time Cheshire was a bustling little commercial center in support of agriculture. There was a post office, blacksmith shop, wheel and spoke factory, distillery, two stores, and a church, all in support of the family farm. Farm work was hard but life was also much simpler back then and locals sought relaxing, enjoyable entertainment. 

In 1898 a Fraternal Organization known as The Knights of the Maccabees built a theatre in the center of the hamlet and named it Macabee Hall. When the theatre became operational the Cheshire Amusement Company was formed by local farm families from the surrounding area.  This organization presented stage plays and interest grew significantly throughout the early years of the hall’s existence. The residents of Ontario County were treated to a plethora of entertaining and most often comical theatrical productions. 

In 1910 the building was purchased by the grange organization and community events continued in the form of gatherings such as square dances, school plays, musical concerts by the local school band, community dinners, the annual Memorial Day commemoration and other special events. During these years the building was a very active facility and the community prospered because of it. The community dynamic was welcoming, neighborly and very positive during this period. 

As the years went by, the family farm began to wane in numbers and significance. The impact of World War II, the conflicts that followed along with demographic shifts and other aspects of national as well as local change began to impact the community. In short, the hamlet itself began to wane and suffer economically. 

In 1970 the grange was sold into private hands and operated as an antique shop until it was ultimately abandoned, probably around 1998 and began to fall into a state of disrepair. It was purchased by the Cheshire Community Action Team (CCAT - a 501C3 organization) in 2009 and restoration began. 

Since 2009 the organization has been hard at work fund raising and rehabilitating the building –  mostly with volunteers. The vision is to restore it to what it once was – a place for all cultural events and activities ranging from small theatre and musical productions to art exhibits, educational programs/events, a meeting place for craft groups and other organizations, wedding receptions, birthday parties and special events with a focus on youth activities.

 

Having recently secured funding through grants, donations and bequests, resumption of the rehabilitation is well underway. But there’s a long way to go to secure its Certificate of Occupancy which will then allow the organization to conduct various fundraising events of its own within the structure. 

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