Day Trips: The Stafford Bank & Opera House, Columbus
Historic small town theatre continues to perform
The Stafford Bank and Opera House in Columbus hearkens back to the days of vaudeville. For more than a century the brick three-story building has served the community as a cornerstone of the courthouse square.
Robert E. Stafford began building his Texas empire in 1856. After the Civil War, he bankrolled his land, cattle, and banking interests with cattle drives. His "ICU" livestock brand served as a warning to rustlers and business partners.
Completed in 1886, the building was designed by Nicholas J. Clayton. The architect also designed the well-known Bishop's Palace in Galveston and St. Edward's University in Austin.
The Columbus building had a bank and dry goods store on the first floor and the theatre upstairs with seating for 1,000. Stafford's home was next door, and he watched performances through the window of his upstairs parlor. Guests came from Austin and Houston to see Lillian Russell, Houdini, and others.
After Stafford was murdered, his family continued to operate the building for many years. It was leased to the county's first Ford dealership from 1918 to 1974. The local historical preservation organization bought and began restoring the landmark in 1972, rededicating it in 1990.
The Stafford Bank and Opera House is at 425 Spring St. in Columbus, and is open for self-guided tours. There is a visitors' center on the first floor. The Stafford hosts regional theatre companies in October, November, March, and April. For a schedule, call 979/732-5135 or go to www.columbustexas.org.
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