The "Finest Theater in America"



Beckwith Theatre

In 1893, a lavish theater opened in the small (pop. 7,000) town of Dowagiac, Michigan. Built at the then-astronomical cost of $100,000, it was the gift of freethinking stove and furnace magnate Philo D. Beckwith to his hometown. For many years giants of the theatre came incongruously to the humble town to play what was generally considered the "the finest theater its size in America."

Beckwith Ext Drawing

Beckwith died in 1889, before the theater was finished. Beckwith's heirs made sure the facility reflected his views on religion; Ingersoll gave the dedication speech on the theater's opening night, January 25th, 1893. The building's exterior featured stone relief medallions of six famous women - including Susan B. Anthony - and fourteen famous men - including Ingersoll.

The Beckwith Theater was razed in 1968. Five stone medallions were thought lost, Ingersoll's among them. For the rest of the story, click 'Back,' then click on the bust of Ingersoll on the right-hand side of the image.

Beckwith Theatre Auditorium

View of the stage and orchestra pit. Note lavish painted backdrop.
Beckwith Interior

The interior included elaborate appointments and even luxury boxes.
Beckwith Curtain

Even the curtain was painted with a scene on classical themes.
Lee Bros. Bank

Interior view of Lee Bros. and Company Bank, which occupied one corner of the theater building.

Gifts of Roger Greeley