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Joseph Prentice Hewitt rests for all eternity in the Village Cemetery (aka the Marble Orchard). (Submitted photo)
Joseph Prentice Hewitt rests for all eternity in the Village Cemetery (aka the Marble Orchard). (Submitted photo)

A true 'Phantom of the Lewiston Opera Hall'

Sun, Feb 18th 2024 11:35 am

By Michelle Kratts

At one time, they were people. They lived, loved, breathed – just as we do. But life is finite and now they rest on the other side, at the Village Cemetery.

Of course, once in a while, curiosity gets to them, and they can’t help but peek at us, the living. They are quiet and mostly unseen. They only want us to know that, at one time, they were like us.

And don’t we all have a story?

Perhaps one of the first “phantoms” from Lewiston’s past, who has a story worth telling, is Joseph Prentice Hewitt, the “father” of the Opera Hall. Hewitt, contractor, farmer and lumberman, built the edifice known as the Opera Hall in 1832, to house a series of stores. Over the years, it became the real hub of Lewiston social life. Dinners, charity events, elegant balls and lectures were held here.

At one time, Lewiston’s telephone dispatch office was held on the first floor. A butcher ran his ghastly trade in the basement spaces. Secret societies held meetings here. And a few ghost hunts (attempts to contact the other side) also took place here in this space in the more recent past.

Hewitt is probably most amazed at how some things have changed in Lewiston, and also how some things have stayed the same. He would certainly be pleased that the Opera Hall is still buzzing with life. Born in LeRoy, in Genesee County, on Sept. 20, 1803, to Joseph Hewitt and Hannah Forsyth, he came to the area as a small child. At that time, in the early 1800s, Niagara County was a wide-open wilderness teeming with deadly snakes and unknown dangers. The Hewitt family settled initially on the Ridge Road. They are forever linked to the history of the establishment of Niagara County after an act of legislature passed on March 11, 1808.

By 1810, the Hewitt family moved to Lewiston – where Joseph stayed until his death. In 1813, when the British set fire to Lewiston, during the War of 1812, his family was among those forced to leave. They took whatever they could carry and escaped in the chill of that December night – everything they had built, swept away in the smoke. It was said that, even as just a small boy of only 10 years of age, Hewitt acted in a most courageous manner.

They returned to the homestead, following the peace, and that is where they stayed. On Dec. 20, 1826, Hewitt was married to Lydia Waggoner. He spent a lifetime as a gentleman of Lewiston. He was a large property owner and had five farms, as well as village property. Upon his death, on Aug. 13, 1887, Hewitt left a son and a daughter. His remains are buried at the village cemetery.

Joseph P. Hewitt never wanted to leave Lewiston, it was his home – and it might be said that his spirit lives on at the Opera Hall.

Ownership of the building has changed hands over the years as peoples' fortunes came and went. One of the longest deedholders was Reuben Moss, for whom the building was named. It is currently owned by a small group of investors, Opera Hall Events LLC, who have lovingly restored the second floor into one of Lewiston’s most delightfully charming indoor venues, featuring monthly musical, theatrical and children’s events.

Tickets Now Available for ‘Phantoms of the Opera Hall’

Tickets are now available for “Phantoms of the Opera Hall,” to be presented at the Historic Lewiston Opera Hall from April 5-7 – prior to the total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8. 

Organizers said, “The Opera Hall Players are proud to present this new production that features ‘spirits’ from Lewiston's past who will share their stories and tall tales centered around the history of the Lewiston Opera Hall. Given the awe-inspiring celestial event of the weekend, many tales are tied to the miseries and mysteries of the moon.” 

Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. each night. There is a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday.

Seating is limited. Tickets can be purchased online at https://business.upwardniagara.com/ap/Events/Register/WpMXJE9r.

Please note: The performance venue is on the second floor, accessible only by stairs.

The Historic Lewiston Opera Hall is located at 732 Center St.

“Phantoms of the Opera Hall” is sponsored by Opera Hall Events LLC, Niagara Frontier Publications and the Upward Niagara Chamber of Commerce

For more information or sponsorship opportunities, email [email protected]. Find the show on Facebook: “Phantoms of the Opera Hall.”

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