Wisconsin Historical Society

Property Record

242-246 MAIN ST (250 MAIN ST)

Architecture and History Inventory
242-246 MAIN ST (250 MAIN ST) | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society
NAMES
Historic Name:DRIVER'S STORE AND OPERA HOUSE
Other Name:BENEDICTS AND THE TOWNSMEN
Contributing: Yes
Reference Number:28121
PROPERTY LOCATION
Location (Address):242-246 MAIN ST (250 MAIN ST)
County:Lafayette
City:Darlington
Township/Village:
Unincorporated Community:
Town:
Range:
Direction:
Section:
Quarter Section:
Quarter/Quarter Section:
PROPERTY FEATURES
Year Built:1883
Additions:
Survey Date:1982
Historic Use:opera house/concert hall
Architectural Style:Romanesque Revival
Structural System:
Wall Material:Brick
Architect:
Other Buildings On Site:
Demolished?:No
Demolished Date:
DESIGNATIONS
National/State Register Listing Name: Main Street Historic District
National Register Listing Date:10/7/1994 12:00:00 AM
State Register Listing Date:7/15/1994 12:00:00 AM
National Register Multiple Property Name:
NOTES
Additional Information:A 'site file' exists for this property. It contains additional information such as correspondence, newspaper clippings, or historical information. It is a public record and may be viewed in person at the Wisconsin Historical Society, Division of Historic Preservation-Public History.

THIS STRUCTURE COMBINES COMMERCIAL ITALIANATE FORM WITH POLYCHROMATIC ROMANESQUE REVIVAL BRICKWORK.

THIS CREAM AND RED BRICK VENEERED COMMERCIAL BLOCK AND OPERA HOUSE PROMINENTLY PLACED ON A CORNER LOT IN THE COMMERCIAL DISTRICT HAS A SLIGHTLY SLOPING ROOF AND A PLAIN CORNICE PROJECTING ABOVE AN ARCADE OF ARCHES THAT IS CARRIED AROUND THE TWO STREET FACING SIDES OF THE STRUCTURE. A VERNACULAR INTERPRETATION OF THE VICTORIAN ROMANESQUE STYLE, THE FACADE FEATURES AN ARCADE OF CORBELED POLYCHROMATIC ROUND ARCHES TERMINATING INTO A SIMPLE CORNICE ABOVE THE 2ND FLOOR WINDOWS. AN UNADORNED CORNICE SEPARATES THE STREET LEVEL FACADE FROM THE 2ND STORY. PROJECTING SEGMENTAL ARCHED WINDOW HOODS OVER THE LONG, NARROW 2ND STORY WINDOWS FURTHER CHARACTERIZES THIS TWO-STORY STRUCTURE. UTILITARIAN CAST IRON COLUMNS FRAME THE STREET LEVEL STORE FRONTS. GENERALLY, THE STORE FRONTS HAVE BEEN ALTERED TO VARIOUS DEGREES FOR CONTEMPORARY USE. THE STRUCTURE HAS SOME STONE CONSTRUCTION AT THE REAR.

ONE OF THE OLDER BUILDINGS IN THE COMMERCIAL DISTRICT TO REMAIN IN ITS ORIGINAL STYLE, THIS STRUCTURE IS ARCHITECTURALLY SIGNIFICANT BECAUSE IT IS A GOOD INTERPRETATION OF THE VICTORIAN ROMANESQUE COMMERCIAL STYLE POPULAR DURING THE PERIOD IT WAS CONSTRUCTED. IN ADDITION, VISUALLY, IT IS A KEY BUILDING OF SUBSTANTIAL SIZE IN THE COMMERCIAL DISTRICT OF DARLINGTON.

THE DRIVER OPERA HOUSE IS ONE OF THE MOST HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT STRUCTURES IN DARLINGTON'S COMMERCIAL DISTRICT. JOSEPHUS DRIVER AND HIS SONS PROBABLY WERE A FEW OF THE PIVOTAL CHARACTERS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF DARLINGTON'S COMMERCIAL DISTRICT.

JOSEPHUS DRIVER ORIGINALLY OF YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND CAME TO LAFAYETTE COUNTY IN 1851. HE WAS ONE OF THE FIRST SETTLERS OF DARLINGTON.(F) DRIVER, WHO WAS A MERCHANT TAILER, BUILT THE SECOND STORE THAT WAS ESTABLISHED IN DARLINGTON. HE WAS HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL AS A TAILOR AND CLOTHIER. IN 1853, HE EXPANDED HIS BUSINESS AND ADDED A FULL STOCK OF GENERAL MERCHANDISE. HIS ORIGINAL STORE WAS LOCATED IN THE 200 BLOCK, EAST SIDE OF MAIN STREET.(D,F)

IN 1866 HIS SON, ROBERT H., TOOK CHARGE OF THE GENERAL MERCHANDISE BRANCH. IT WAS EXPANDED WHEN HE BOUGHT THE LAFAYETTE COUNTY BOOK STORE (NOW SOLOMON AUTO PARTS) (LT 26-32). IN 1879, ROBERT'S BROTHER JOSEPH B., A PHARMACIST, TOOK CHARGE OF THE BOOK STORE AND ADDED A DRUG COUNTER.

THE EXPANDING GENERAL MERCHANDISE STORE HAD OUTGROWN ITS QUARTERS (SOLOMON AUTO PARTS--NORTH STORE--LT 26-31).(D) THE DRIVER OPERA HOUSE WAS ERECTED IN THE SPRING OF 1883. IT OCCUPIES TWO LOTS FRONTING ON MAIN AND EXTENDS 200 FEET ON ANN STREET. IT WAS GREATLY APPRECIATED BY THE CITY FOR IT "FURNISHED THE CITY WITH A HALL." THREE QUARTERS OF THE GROUND FLOOR WAS ORIGINALLY OCCUPIED BY DRIVER'S GENERAL MERCHANDISE STORE. THE CORNER SPACE WAS OCCUPIED BY W. A. MANNING'S JEWELRY AND ONE DOOR WEST ON MAIN WAS THE TELEPHONE EXCHANGE.(E)

THE OPERA HOUSE ON THE SECOND FLOOR WAS OCCUPIED BY A PUBLIC HALL AND STAGE, 100 FEET IN LENGTH. THE AUDIENCE SEATING CAPACITY WAS 500 TO 600 IN A ROOM 76 X 40 FEET. THE STAGE WAS 20 X 24 FEET. THE BUILDING CONSTRUCTION COST WAS BETWEEN $10,000 AND $15,000.(E)

THE DRIVER COMPANY WAS ONE OF THE LEADING COMPANIES OF THE CITY. JOSEPHUS DRIVER, THE FATHER AND FOUNDER CONTINUED HIS TAILOR AND CLOTHING BUSINESS IN HIS OLD STORE ON S. MAIN UNTIL HIS DEATH IN 1901. ROBERT H. CONTINUED CHARGE OF THE MERCANTILE BUSINESS ALONG WITH HIS BROTHERS SEPHUS S., JOSEPH B. AND JAMES. LATER SEPHUS AND JOSEPH MOVED TO CHICAGO AND MOBILE, ALABAMA RESPECTIVELY. ROBERT AND JAMES REMAINED IN BUSINESS AT DARLINGTON. THE DRIVER BROTHERS ALSO DEALT IN GRAIN-BUYING AND HAD SEVERAL WAREHOUSES.(D,B)

THE DRIVER MERCANTILE COMPANY OPERATED IN DARLINGTON THREE QUARTERS OF A CENTURY AND IN THIS BUILDING OVER 50 YEARS. THE OPERA HOUSE EXISTED AS LONG. IT WAS THE ENTERTAINMENT CENTER DURING THE LATE 19TH CENTURY AND EARLY 20TH CENTURY. TRAVELING SHOWS AND PLAYS WERE PERFORMED HERE. DANCES AND COMMUNITY GATHERINGS WERE HELD IN THE OPERA HOUSE.(C)
Bibliographic References:A. BIRD'S EYE VIEW MAP OF DARLINGTON: H. BROSIUS, 1871; J. J. STONER, 1881. B. SANBORN-PERRIS MAP, DARLINGTON, 1884, 1889, 1894, 1900, 1908, 1915, 1924. C. KENNETH SCHREITER, INTERVIEW, 1-10-83. D. "DARLINGTON REPUBLICAN," JANUARY 7, 1881. E. IBID., JANUARY 4, 1884. F. C. W. BUTTERFIELD, "HISTORY OF LAFAYETTE COUNTY," 1881, P. 718. G. "WISCONSIN NECROLOGY," VOLUME 19, P. 138. Take a Walk on Main Street: Historic Walking Tours in Wisconsin's Main Street Communities, Wisconsin Main Street Program, 1998.
RECORD LOCATION
Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, Division of Historic Preservation, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison, Wisconsin

Have Questions?

If you didn't find the record you were looking for, or have other questions about historic preservation, please email us and we can help:

If you have an update, correction, or addition to a record, please include this in your message:

  • AHI number
  • Information to be added or changed
  • Source information

Note: When providing a historical fact, such as the story of a historic event or the name of an architect, be sure to list your sources. We will only create or update a property record if we can verify a submission is factual and accurate.

How to Cite

For the purposes of a bibliography entry or footnote, follow this model:

Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory Citation
Wisconsin Historical Society, Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory, "Historic Name", "Town", "County", "State", "Reference Number".