Time Machine

100 years ago, wealthy Tipton farmer left money to build opera house that became a theater

The 2003 logo for the Hardacre Film Festival, created by artist William Acedo. (Gazette archives)
The 2003 logo for the Hardacre Film Festival, created by artist William Acedo. (Gazette archives)
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Jacob Hardacre was a quiet, unassuming and well-liked man who amassed a fortune as a farmer and whose name, over the past century, has graced an opera house, a theater and a film festival in his hometown of Tipton.

Hardacre was born in Virginia on Dec. 12, 1822, and was just a boy when his family moved to Ohio and then to Indiana. When he was 19, he drove a team to Iowa, where he settled in Tipton in Cedar County.

He lived there for a decade until the California gold rush piqued his interest. He stayed out West for about a year before returning to Tipton in 1853.

Hardacre, at age 36, married Lucinda Moffit, who came from a prosperous Irish farm family, in October 1859. They operated a large farm near Tipton for almost 30 years before Lucinda died April 1, 1888.

MISSOURI FARM

Three years later, Hardacre’s friend, Hiram Auton, persuaded him to buy a 600-acre farm for $17,000 near the unincorporated town of Lentner in Shelby County in northeast Missouri, where Auton had moved his family the year before.

Hardacre eventually hired Auton’s son, Dell Auton, and his wife, Lula, to live on the farm and help manage it. His Missouri neighbors liked Hardacre, calling him “Uncle Jacob.”

Hardacre expanded his Missouri farm over the years until he owned 1,047 acres.

He returned to Iowa periodically to manage his holdings. He died Aug. 12, 1912, at age 90 in Tipton, where he was buried.

THE WILL

Hardacre died without any direct heirs, and when his will was read, news of its surprising contents spread fast. His estate was valued at about $100,000 — about $2.5 million in today’s dollars.

After bequests to family members and friends, the city of Tipton received close to $65,000 to build a hall for the Manitou Lodge No. 8 Independent Order of Odd Fellows that would include a public hall.

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The will was filed for probate in Iowa, but it had to be filed in Shelby County, Mo., too. An auction was held Sept. 10, 1912, at Hardacre’s Missouri farm, where the sale of horses, hogs, grain and personal property brought in about $3,500, or around $90,000 in today’s dollars.

lawsuits

George Stout, Hardacre’s nephew, was not among the will’s beneficiaries and contested the will in court on Jan. 10, 1913. More lawsuits against the estate were filed by Lula Auton, H.J. Hamiel and James Stout.

When the lawsuits were finally settled and the legal fees paid, the Manitou Lodge had $20,000 — around $500,000 in today’s dollars — to build Hardacre hall.

A committee — it included W.J. Moore and I.J. Hamiel for the Hardacre estate and C.F. Simmermaker, Ernest Sheppard and W.C. Neiman of the Manitou Lodge — chose a site north of the courthouse for the new opera house.

Ground was broken at 112 E. Fifth St. on April 4, 1915, and the Hardacre Memorial Hall and opera house was dedicated April 6, 1916.

The opera house had a 600-seat theater, with a 22-by-48-foot stage and two store rooms on the main floor and a lodge room, anterooms, kitchen and closets on the second floor.

THE MOVIES

Ralph E. Kent was the theater’s first manager, though he retired in just a few months, with O.P. Littlejohn and his son, Oliver, then taking over.

Littlejohn began leaning toward showing more motion pictures and hosting fewer live performances. The opera house was the site of a December 1916 showing of “Birth of a Nation,” produced by D.W. Griffith.

The trade magazine, Opera House Reporter, gave the Hardacre a less than stellar review after a writer dropped in for a February 1917 performance that hadn’t been advertised because Littlejohn was sick. Still, the reviewer called it a beautiful theater.

theater sold

In 1919, Calvin A. Lopeman bought the Hardacre, showing Paramount Pictures movies as well as local fare. Lopeman added a pipe organ in 1927 to accompany the silent films.

After running the Hardacre for 10 years, Lopeman sold the theater to Grover L. DeNune of DeWitt in November 1928. In 1929, the theater’s first talking picture, “Broadway Melody,” was shown while Lester Blocker was the manager.

A new sound system was installed in 1931.

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After the DeNunes divorced in 1942, Beulah DeNune took over the Hardacre. John Snyder, who was hired as manager, renovated the building by updating the interior and equipment and adding a new neon marquee.

Iowa United Theaters of Des Moines bought the Hardacre in December 1948. The new owners continued the remodel with new carpet, lighting and furnishings.

longtime manager

The 1950s saw one new manager, Clarence Nayland, replaced shortly by a former projectionist/snack bar employee, Francis Schilling, who managed the theater from 1953 to 1970, after which he bought it from United Theaters.

The playhouse again became a site for fashion shows and community productions as well as movies.

Louie and Virginia Cook bought the building from the IOOF Lodge in 1978. They leased it to Lee and Frances Kenney in October 1982.

After the Kenneys introduced the Tipton Playhouse, they brainstormed a way to raise enough money to refurbish the theater. They hoped featuring popular soap opera stars would bring in customers. The plan failed, and the Kenneys declared bankruptcy in 1986.

FILM FESTIVAL

Stuart Clark, publisher and editor of the Tipton Conservative newspaper, bought the theater and its equipment at auction in 1987. He then leased it to Jeff and Julie Eisentraut, who reopened the theater with a video store in the lobby.

In 1997, Troy Peters and Clark organized the Hardacre Film Festival, an independent film festival that became an annual event.

The nonprofit Hardacre Theater Preservation Association bought the theater in 2014 for $96,100 and closed it, saying it needed around $3.8 million in renovations before it could reopen as a theater and venue for performing arts. That amount has since been scaled back.

In 2016, the Hardacre Theater, in its 100th anniversary year, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The theater remains closed, and the fundraising continues.

• Comments: (319) 398-8338; d.fannonlangton@gmail.com

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