Assion-Ruffing City Hall

The Assion-Ruffing City Hall was built in 1864 by Mr. Cook of Lafayette for merchants Joseph Assion and John Ruffing. The red brick Italianate building was constructed with three retail bays on the ground floor, office and/or residential rooms on the second level, and a spacious meeting room on the third floor. An engraved limestone arch over the center double windows of the third floor proclaims "City Hall." Never a government building, this City Hall was intended for public gatherings. The first event held there was a dance on June 27, 1865, in honor of Company B, 86th Indiana Volunteers, and other soldiers returning from the Civil War. Theater performances, lectures, dinners, concerts, dances, and other community events were common fare in the third-floor hall.

Lathrope & Ruffing Opera House

In 1881, John Lathrope, partnered with John Ruffing to remodel the third floor of the Assion-Ruffing City Hall into a grand opera house. Lathrope was a renowned cornetist, and his Silver Cornet Band was a musical institution in Delphi and the surrounding area. He also operated a bakery and restaurant in the City Hall building. With a reputation for never doing anything halfway, Lathrope outfitted the opera house with fine wall and ceiling papers. Demorest folding opera seats were installed on the newly-laid tiered floor and in the gallery. The stairs were reconfigured to the street to accommodate large audiences--important with a seating capacity of 500!

On April 7, 1882, the Lathrope & Ruffing Opera House had its grand opening, featuring the Litta Grand Opera Company from Chicago with the famous soprano Marie Litta performing to a packed house. It was quite a coups to book Marie Litta for the grand opening. Dignitaries from throughout the region were in attendance and rave reviews in area newspapers followed the opening event.

With Lathrope as theater manager, the opera house was in constant use—often with two or three performances per week. Travelling theater troupes, minstrel companies, lecturers, and concerts were among the types of entertainment offered. Among the notables performing in the Lathrope & Ruffing Opera House was famed Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley who graced the stage at least six times.

Soon the theater became known simply as the Delphi Opera House used not only for traveling acts but also for community gatherings such as gradualtion ceremonies and club meetings. The Delphi Opera House was home to the Delphi Dramatic Club—numbering nearly 150—which put on a new production every month.

By the 1910s, the Delphi Opera House was showing its age. Motion picture theaters were coming into vogue and third-floor performance spaces were losing appeal. The final blow for the Delphi Opera House came in 1914 when it was condemned by the Fire Marshal as unsafe. The Dreyfus Theater in Lafayette burned that year calling attention to similar upper-story performance halls having only one means of exit.

Captain John Lathrope, 1851-1917

John Lathrope Born in Penzance England, John Lathrope immigrated to the U.S. in 1851, living first near Boston, Massachusetts. Already an accomplished musician at age 10, John travelled to the Lafayette area via the Wabash & Erie Canal—his father having secured passage by providing entertainment for the passengers and crew.His family worked on several small farms in the area before moving to Delphi in 1858.

Lathrope served in the Civil War as a bugler and leader of the Ninth Volunteer Regimental Band. He ran several retail establishments in Delphi, but music was his first love. Lathrope was a renown cornetist and band leader conducting the Lathrope Silver Cornet Band for many years. In 1882, he opened the Lathrope & Ruffing Opera House on the third floor of the City Hall building and was its manager for many years.

Marie Litta, 1856-1883

MarieLittaStage 017 GrayDebuting in Paris in 1878, Marie Litta quickly won both acclaim from the music world and the hearts of her audiences. Frequently compared to Jenny Lind for the quality of her voice, her career was short-lived as she fell ill while touring in 1883. She returned to her home in Bloomington, Illinois, where she died at the age of 27. As a mark of her importance in the musical world, weekly reports on her health and subsequent passing were covered in The New York Times.

James Whitcomb Riley

JamesWhitcombRileyHoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley gave at least six performances in the Lathrope & Ruffing Opera House, the first in December, 1882. Riley frequented Delphi having made good friends here, including Dr. Wycliffe Smith.

Several poems about the area were penned by Riley including "From Delphi to Camden" and "On the Banks O' Deer Crick." Riley painted both in words and on canvas. On a hot summer afternoon he might be spotted painting landscape views of Deer Creek.

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118 N. Union Street 
P.O. Box 161
Delphi, IN 46923