Mt. Upton Theatre

Mount Upton, NY 13809

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Smalley's Theaters Inc.

Functions: Live Music Venue

Previous Names: Smalley's Mt. Upton Theatre

Nearby Theaters

No theaters found within 30 miles

Articles about upstate New York theatre mogul William C. Smalley all agree: he got his start opening his first theatre in tiny Mt. Upton, N.Y. Thanksgiving 1913. (the standard story then claims he followed a year later by opening a theatre in miniscule Gilbertsville, which beggars belief)

Neither of these two theatres seem to have been a part of Smalley’s empire for long, and they do not figure in the large archive of material about the chain held by the NYSHA Research Library. Also, both towns are so small it is hard to visualize theatres lasting beyond the nickelodeon era.

However, an intriguing advertisement does appear in a January 1940 issue of the Amsterdam Daily Democrat, taken out by pioneering Western singer Dusty Miller & The Wranglers, advertising a show at the Mt. Upton Theatre (no Smalley’s). So it appears that the Mt. Upton venue did survive in some form, seemingly by doubling as a live music venue.

More information on this intriguing – and historic – theatre would be great to have. Does it still exist? A careful examination of Google maps in Mt. Upton reveals an intriguing small yellow wood frame building with a double door-sized entrance and what appear to be poster displays still in place on either side. The construction and appearance of the building is consistent with a low-budget small town theatre of the 1910’s.

The building is on Route 8 two doors south of the junction with Route 51, on the west side of the street. It is unknown if this was the theatre building, but the unusual layout, construction and appearance of this building is suggestive.

Contributed by Adam Marsland

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

adamghost on September 23, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Further research reveals that Mt. Upton had an opera house that was in operation as early as 1900 and still functional as late as 1935. It is not known if Smalley built a new theater or set up shop in the existing opera house, but it may be that Dusty Miller’s performance took place at what was formerly called the Mt. Upton Opera House.

adamghost on September 3, 2014 at 3:13 pm

I visited Mt. Upton this week and the suspect building I referenced above appears to have been an outbuilding/garage for the neighboring larger house. What appeared to be poster boards on googlemaps are windows, and there is a garage opening in the center. While it’s possible there was a nickelodeon theater in this building (it’s the right shape and size), there’s no evidence that was the case.

There’s only one other building in town that is the right dimensions to have been an opera house (second and third floors), but there’s no evidence of there having been an outside opening to the upstairs, so chances are this theater and the opera house (whether they are the same or different entities) have been demolished.

adamghost on February 5, 2018 at 7:44 am

A website on Mt. Upton history has a picture of the Mount Upton Opera House, at that point repurposed as a firehouse, in the 1950s. Its high, barn-like construction with narrow windows typical of the 19th century suggests it predates the movie era. Since it was in operation both before and after Smalley’s theater opened in 1913, it seems likely that Smalley’s movie theater was a separate business and thus building. I have so far not been able to locate any pictures or further information about the Smalley theater.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on February 5, 2018 at 12:34 pm

An article in the St. Johnsville Enterprise and News of October 18, 1939 (PDF), says that William Smalley operated his 1913 movie theater at Mt. Upton in the Town Hall. I don’t know if that was the same building as the Opera house. Small settlements of that era frequently had only one public building other than their schoolhouse, and it would be used for all manner of public functions, and sometimes subleased to private individuals for other uses, such as showing movies.

I’ve been unable to find any other references to a Mount Upton Town Hall on the Internet. The writer of the 1939 article probably drew on Mr. Smalley’s own memories of his early career, and it’s possible that in 1913 the building was called the Town Hall and only later came to be known exclusively as the Opera House.

Here is a link to the photo of the former Opera house after it had been converted to a firehouse, to which adamghost made reference. The photo is followed by a comment from a member of the Hinman family claiming that the building is now her parents' garage, but that the upper floor has been removed due to damage.

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