The History of
Follow the Historic journey that birthed the Grand Old Lady of Prince Street
Before this site was a theatre, it was the site of Lancaster’s pre-Revolutionary jail. This was the site where, on December 27, 1763, a vigilante gang known as the “Paxtang Boys” massacred the last of the Conestoga Indians being held there for their protection. This was a monumental event throughout the colonies and became the subject matter for the first plays ever written on American soil – A Dialogue Between Andrew Trueman and Thomas Zealot About the Killing the Indians at Cannestogoe and Lancaster and The Paxton Boys, a Farce. The exterior wall of the jail courtyard still exists as the back wall of the theatre.
The Hall is Built
Christopher Hager, a Lancaster merchant and civic leader, had a dream: to create a building that would serve as a community center for meetings, lectures, concerts, and theatrical performances. The Fulton Theatre was built on the foundation of Lancaster’s pre-Revolutionary jail. He commissioned the renowned Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan (who later designed the Lancaster County Courthouse) to create this building. It was named Fulton Hall, after the county’s steam engine pioneer, Robert Fulton.
The Fulton Continues to Grow
The hall was sold to Blasius Yecker, a harness worker, and Hilaire Zaepfel, a hotelkeeper. Thirteen years later, Zaepfel sold his interest to Yecker, who initiated a major renovation following the Civil War. Edward Forrest Durang, descendant of America’s first actor Lancaster-born John Durang, and ancestor of modern playwright Christopher Durang, remodels the interior into a true performance venue. The grand opening was on October 2nd, 1873. They put on a performance of Othello, benefiting widows and orphans of the Civil War. It was then that the building took the name “Fulton Opera House.” Starting in 1903, Yecker’s son, Charles, took over the Fulton and commissioned local architect C. Emlen Urban to redesign the interior in neo-classic style.
The Grand Old Lady of Prince Street
As the years went by, the Fulton became a second-rate movie house, its stage empty of performers. In the early 1950’s, a campaign was launched to restore the theatre as a home for local productions, musical events, and touring companies. A “grand reopening” celebration was organized on the occasion of the Fulton’s 100th anniversary to stir interest, dubbing the venerable building “The Grand Old Lady of Prince Street.” Despite efforts surrounding the 100th anniversary, business was dismal and the Fulton was fixtured for movies. In October of 1957, the Fulton reopens as the Fulton Art Theatre and a new movie screen is installed.
Foundation for the Future
Concerned citizens saved the Fulton Opera House from the wrecking ball by raising money to purchase the building as a not-for-profit foundation, creating the Fulton Opera House Foundation. This was formed with Nathaniel E. Hager, whose great grandfather had founded Fulton Hall, and returned the venue to Christopher Hager’s initial desire to be established for the community. In 1983, the Actor’s Equity Association recognized the Fulton as a professional regional theatre.
October 14, 1995
Starting in 1989, the Fulton Board launched The Landmark Campaign to raise the funds to restore the theatre to its original Victorian elegance, while adding new facilities and a better experience for the visitors and actors. After shutting down in January 1995 for the $9.5 million reconstruction, the Fulton lit up again on October 14, 1995 with a Gala Reopening performance of the Stephen Sondheim musical, Company.
Learn more about the Fulton's fascinating history