LISBON, ND — Snuggled in the Sheyenne River Valley, Lisbon’s main street is all abuzz. The renovated Lisbon Opera House is about to host a performance of the melodrama “Millie Monka and the Salmon Cannery.”

The opera house first opened in 1889. The idea for the latest production came as a suggestion from two women from New York who were visiting their mother, who lived in Lisbon. They started in June and finished in January. It costs $20,000.

“They got everything up and running with raising money and getting blueprints done, and getting the building built, and by December they were putting on a production,” said Opera House volunteer Doneen Fraase.

In the early 1900s, farm families drove horses and buggies to watch traveling performers.

“It sure brought a lot of people in, you know,” said Opera House volunteer David Olson.

“They carried all the musical instruments, and props and backdrops, they carried with them,” Fraase said.

But the opera house closed in the mid 1900s. The building was in bad shape. But for the last 30 years, volunteers have raised money to get a new roof, windows, brickwork, electrical and heating for the Lisbon Opera House.

Olson has helped guide this three-decade long project.

“There were pot belly stoves used for heating,” Olson said.

As volunteers started peeling back the wallpaper and plaster, they discovered a terrific find. Names from the past. There are autographs from the 1920s.

The original chairs are still around. And later this week, a community theater group will perform.

“It is always this special pride that we got to perform in the opera house,” said play director Chuck Long.

A lot of dedication and perseverance from a town wanting to hang on and preserve such a big part of its past.

“I hate to see history disappear, because it is disappearing on us. We lose what is important to everyone,” Olson said.

Fundraising is still underway for the sanding of the original floors and for money to pay for the re-upholstering of the theater chairs. To help out or learn more visit lisbonoperahouse.org

Kevin Wallevand

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez, Mexico and the Middle East. He is a multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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