One of our most historic landmarks is the Nevada Theater, located at 401 Broad St. in Nevada City. A national and state landmark, it bills itself is the oldest continuously operating theater in California. September 9 will be the 153rd anniversary of the first public theatrical performance at the Nevada Theater. While its first public performance was on September 9, 1865, it was open to the public on April 19, 1865 for a more solemn occasion – a memorial service for President Abraham Lincoln who had been assassinated 5 days earlier.
Construction of the new theater had begun in early 1865 on the site of the burnt out remains of Bailey’s Hotel, gutted by fire in 1863. On April 19, workers were ordered to remove the interior scaffolding and install temporary floors and seats. Later that day, an estimated 1500 people crowded into the theater to pay their respects.
Nevada City’s connection to the assassination is less well known. On April 14, prominent Nevada City citizens Niles Searls and Sen. William Stewart were in Washington D.C. to see the President. When they arrived at the White House around 7 pm, the President was closeted with House Speaker Schuyler Colfax. Not wishing to be late to the theater, the President asked them to return the next morning at 10 am. Would history have changed had he met with them instead of hurrying off to Ford’s Theater?