Courthouse Theatre

Brigham City, Utah

(Summer - By)

During the winter of 1855-1856 Lorenzo Snow, then an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, converted the largest room of his Brigham City home into a theater.  The 15 by 30 foot room had a small stage with scenery at one end.  The performances of the amateur dramatic company were offered free of charge, but had to be presented in shifts so everyone could attend.

In the summer of 1856 a new theater was established in the 22 by 45 foot basement of the partially completed courthouse.  Lorenzo Snow assembled a group of talented young people and hired Salt Lake City actor Henry E. Bowring to teach them the fundamentals of acting.  During the winter they successfully performed plays such as Rip Van Winkle and The Carpenter of Rouen.

In the spring of 1857 a storm blew the roof[1] off the courthouse, destroying the building along with all the stage fixtures.  When the courthouse was rebuilt, it was expanded to 45 by 65 feet.  The basement theater was also rebuilt and the Dramatic Association was reported to have resumed its activities, but no details of further productions can be found.  Apparently the group became inactive.  Interest may have waned during the reconstruction, or Bowring's return to Salt Lake City may have left the group without direct leadership.

In the spring of 1864, Alexander Baird and a group of young people performed the play Barbars of the Parennes at the schoolhouse in Perry and then in the basement theater in the Brigham City courthouse.  They used a couple of wagon covers for curtains and scenery.  Lorenzo Snow, recently returned from a church mission in Hawaii, was in attendance.  Snow later reorganized the Dramatic Organization and asked Baird to be the stage manager.

The newly reorganized troupe presented short dramas and farces once a week on Saturday evenings, with all the proceeds going towards properties and scenery. The stage was probably 22 feet wide and 10 to 12 feet deep, leaving room for an audience of about 100 people. Some of the scenery was painted on the rear wall of the stage by Porter Squires and Andrew J. Caggie.

The Dramatic Association was so successful that they soon required more space. During the winter of 1868 to 1869, the Dramatic Association produced the play “Hamlet” in the dance hall over Rosenbaum's store.

The Dramatic Association later moved from the basement to the upper floor of the courthouse. $3,000 was spent on remodeling, including a new 45 by 18 foot stage. The auditorium had benches for about about 350 people, with a balcony across the west end. $300 was spent on additional scenery and props. The first play staged in the Courthouse Theatre may have been “The Stranger” in June 1867. The Dramatic Association was able to pay off its debt within two years.

Traveling troupes and amateur companies from nearby towns also performed at the Courthouse Theatre, but it was essentially the home of the Brigham City Dramatic Association. The Dramatic Association was said to be “the best dramatic company in the Territory outside Salt Lake City."[2]

By 1889, the courthouse was turned over to the county commissioners to be used entirely for county business.[1] The Courthouse Theatre closed and the Dramatic Association was disbanded.

In 1887 the courthouse was remodeled and an Italianate clock tower added. In 1910 a large, two-story addition with a Greek temple-like facade was built, basically turning the original adobe structure into a rear wing.[1]

“In today's era of mass entertainment provided by radio, movies, and television, it is difficult to imagine the importance of the Courthouse Theatre to its patrons. The theatricals helped fulfill the need for entertainment, romance, and escape, as well as offering delightful instruction and new experiences, albeit vicariously, as attested by the crowds that filled the auditorium for performance after performance during the three decades of the Theatre's existence.”[3]

1. "The Box Elder County Courthouse", The History Blazer, June 1996, Utah State History CD-ROM
2. Smith, Lorenzo Snow, 270 - quoted in "Theatre in Zion: The Brigham City Dramatic Association", By Rue C. Johnson, Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 33, Number 3 (Summer 1965)
3. "Theatre in Zion: The Brigham City Dramatic Association", By Rue C. Johnson, Utah Historical Quarterly, Volume 33, Number 3 (Summer 1965)