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If only we could spend another night at Pope's Hall


Blue Heron Beginnings: Commentary on the Willamette Falls Legacy Project

The Blue Heron Mill site’s significance in the origins of Oregon City includes its role in our town’s cultural life. Amidst the mills, flumes and water wheels, Oregon’s first newspaper, the Spectator, began publishing in the neighborhood in 1846. Stores like Charman & Warner, and inns like the Cliff House, dotted the original street grid. An early mint produced the Beaver Coin.

By the late 19th century, Pope’s Hall, later referred to also as the Pope Opera House, became perhaps the center of Oregon City’s cultural life. Built in 1873 at the northwest corner of Main and Fourth streets, the hall stood on the second floor of the Pope’s Hardware Store building. It lasted over a century.

Like virtually everything else within the Blue Heron site, the paper-making operation engulfed even the Pope building. For example, the Oregonian reported on Oct. 4, 1931:

“The Hawley Pulp & Paper Company has just installed a new 42-inch paper towel converting machine, and operations are expected to start soon, Manager Kelly announced today. The machine, which is located in the old Pope building at Fourth and Main streets, has a capacity of 200 cartons of paper towels a day.”

Sadly we lost the Pope Opera House within recent memory, around 1980.

It probably goes without saying that the legacy of Pope’s Hall should inspire a vision of a performance space within the Willamette Falls Legacy Project, whether that might be an amphitheater constructed within the massive riverfront clarifier structure, or an auditorium in the well-proportioned and open-spaced No. 1 Paper Machine building at the foot of the basin, or a new structure that becomes the pride of Oregon City and the state.

The author of this column recently came across the following story, which vividly brings to life a glimpse of Oregon City’s 19th-century cultural life. So, without further ado, “Blue Heron Beginnings” proudly presents, courtesy of the Oregon City Enterprise of Nov. 5, 1875, page 3, column 1, a Night at Pope’s Hall:

THE CONCERT. Successful in Every Particular.

Perhaps never before has Pope’s Hall held a larger or more select audience, than was assembled there on the occasion of the concert in aid of the Congregational Church, on Saturday evening last. The music was entirely the work of amateurs, each of whom, we are proud to say, belongs to this city. The different ladies and gentleman participating acquitted themselves, not only with credit, but with unequivocal, pronounced skill; and though the applause and enthusiasm were great, to have redoubled such manifestations of pleasurable approbation would have been no more than the deserts of this musicale. In order to do justice to the several debutantes it will be necessary to pass through the programme, briefly noticing each singer, that those of our readers who were not so fortunate as to be in attendance may form some limited idea of this very enjoyable entertainment.

An English adaptation of “The Conspirator’s March” from the opera bouffe “La Fille de Madame Angot,” called “Sweet Dawn Awakes,” was sung by four very fine voices, and was received with rounds of applause. Miss Nettie Post, Miss Pet Miller, W.C. Johnson, Esq., and Mr. E.T. Hatch composed this quartette.

Miss Nettie Post followed with the charming little ballad “Fly forth Gentle Dove,” which was executed most delightfully.

The next was a duet by Miss Caufield and Miss Pet Miller, entitled “Go Where the Mists Are Sleeping.” This was a most enjoyable morceau. The sweet voice of Miss Caufield and the clear notes from Miss Miller blending in the completest harmony.

Mr. E.T. Hatch followed this duet with “By the Blue Sea,” a song most judiciously chosen and most admirably rendered. This gentleman is possessed of a deep basso, well under control, and a vocal range apparently running the gamut beyond what is known as the baritone. His hearty applause was well merited.

Decidedly the gem of the evening was that dear old song of Tom Moore’s, and the favorite of Parepa Rosa, “The Last Rose of Summer.” This was rendered by Miss Emma Miller. It has been our good fortune to have been present at many soirees musicales, and to have heard many prominent amateur sopranos, and as far as reaches our limited knowledge of the “art divine,” and our perhaps not over-educated taste, we most unhesitatingly say that from a non-professional, we have never heard sweeter strains, or witnessed more patent evidences of vocal cultivation than exhibited by Miss Emma Miller on Saturday evening last. This young lady’s voice is rich with silver, swelling forth at times with a cadence truly grand. Possessing what many a public emtatrice would envy — volume, harmony and tenderness — is it any wonder that her audience of home-friends was entranced? Applause, if not as great, at least as hearty as the bravas of La Scala, brought Miss Miller twice before the footlights, and thus, amidst loud plaudits, ended the first part of the concert.

Variety being the spice of life, the second part of the entertainment began with a most creditably selected and well delivered recitation, by Miss Kate Frazer, the subject being the well known “Sleeping Sentinel.”

Sweetest arias from “Ernani” were then most brilliantly executed by Miss Emma Miller. Her trills were very creditable, and the high notes well taken and firmly held, showing a confidence in her powers rarely found among amateurs. At the close of this operatic cavatina, the encores were so great, and so long persisted in, that Miss Miller was compelled to come again before the audience. She sang “Home, Sweet Home” — than which no more appropriate ballad could have been selected. Having been away from this city at the Musical Conservative at Boston for several years, she seemed to throw pathos into Hayne’s poem, of which even he, poor fellow, could scarcely have considered the words susceptible. The demonstrations of delight at the close of this song were of such a nature as to show the thorough appreciation of their audience, and the high estimate which it naturally formed of the institution from which this young lady has just departed.

The duet of “The Forest Birds” was sweetly sung by Miss Nettie Post and Miss Pet Miller.

Following this came the “Tempest,” a good song for a good voice - which was not wanting in Mr. Hatch.

The climax was reached when the Misses Miller and Messrs. Johnson and Hatch sang “Moonlight on the Lake.” Had we not already awarded the palm to the “Last Rose of Summer,” we should feel constrained to announce this quartette as the master-effort of the evening — suffice it to say it was a fitting close to a delightful entertainment.

To Miss Lovejoy, of this place, and Mr. DePrans, of Portland, especial thanks are due, and praise should be given, for their very able accompaniment at the piano.

We have but one fault to find, and that complimentary in its nature — the programme was too short.

Oregon City resident James Nicita is a former city commissioner.