From Ashes, Downtown Enosburg Falls Witnesses an Arts Revival
State of the Arts
performance of "Oliver!"
Ethan Dezotelle sat at the window-side bar of the Flying Disc music and coffee shop in Enosburg Falls last week. Over smoothies, he reminisced about the fire that ravaged downtown in 2005 and said the blaze sparked a microburst in the town’s arts scene.
“There’s a whole lot going on,” said Dezotelle, 36, a three-year Enosburg Falls trustee. “It’s sort of an unofficial arts district here.”
Look no further than the Enosburg Opera House. The Victorian-style, wood-frame venue in northeastern Franklin County has become a destination for area arts enthusiasts.
For the first time in its 119-year history, the opera house will present two large-scale summer musicals: Oliver! beginning Thursday, July 14, and Guys and Dolls the last week of the month.
“I think it is rather unique,” said opera-house managing director Suzanne Hull-Parent, seated in her office last Wednesday, the first night of crunch-time rehearsals. “In our feelings and minds, this is at the heart of what the opera house originally did.”
More than 100 people are involved in both shows, including up to 35 individuals who have time on stage in each production — a record in Hull-Parent’s three-year tenure at the opera house. She said the current level of activity recalls the facility’s heyday.
The Dr. B.J. Kendall Co., a patent-medicine manufacturer, donated the building to the town in 1892. Known for its fine acoustics, the venue played host to enthusiastic audiences and famous performers, including march king John Philip Sousa.
Events at the opera house declined in the late 1940s, after a new high school gymnasium presented a competing performance space, and the building sat mostly unused — and unheated — until a citizens’ committee assumed oversight and operations in the 1970s. The opera house underwent major renovations in the mid-1990s, and Friends of the Opera House continues to fundraise for ongoing facility needs.
After an 11-year hiatus, community musical theater returned to the Enosburg Opera House with a 2008 production of The Music Man, followed by Hello, Dolly! in 2009. The shows sold out. Audiences had a reason to return to Enosburg Falls, and performers of all ages had another avenue in northwestern Vermont.
“I think there’s been a revival here,” Hull-Parent said. “I think people love to go to musicals they know. It’s a traditional form of entertainment.”
Outside of musicals, opera-house programming includes other plays, musical groups and soloists, a November craft show, a community Christmas concert and the annual “Highbrow to Hoedown” local variety show, which benefits various Franklin County nonprofits.
Hull-Parent said opera-house audiences comprise a mix of locals, Canadians and campers from the Lake Carmi State Park in Franklin, just a short drive away. Now, those visitors linger in downtown Enosburg Falls after the show.
“It’s because they have a place to go,” Dezotelle said. “Culturally, the fire was a positive thing for us.”
Lake Champlain Housing rebuilt the historic Abbott and Depatie blocks that flames swallowed in February 2005. Dezotelle, who was then editor of the weekly County Courier newspaper, said that, as the block rose from the ashes, so did Enosburg Falls’ artistic community.
A busy artists’ cooperative has set up in the new block, along with a jewelry store, furniture store, café and other small businesses and upper-level apartments.
Across the street is the Flying Disc, a comfy-couch-and-chair coffee house and used-CD store that also sells work by local artists. The Disc is where the St. Albans Literary Guild held its recent launch of a Franklin County literary magazine, Route 7. The Vermont band Farm record their albums in a lower-level studio known as the Cave of Legends.
“Having all this new artistic activity in Enosburg has really been good for the downtown businesses,” said Kelee Maddox, who co-owns the Disc with her husband, Ben Maddox.
Dezotelle noted that the Enosburg Business Association has discussed ways to capitalize on the new interest in arts and the flurry of activity at the opera house.
“Enosburg is more of a package deal now,” he said. “My hope is that Enosburg Falls becomes a place where people go to spend a few hours. And this has definitely built the community. That’s been a great thing to see.”