Editor’s Note: This information has been gleaned from various sources including documents on the Internet: Dan Weiskotten, former Cazenovia historian, at http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nyccazen; from College files; and from “Generations of Excellence: an Illustrated History of Cazenovia Seminary and Cazenovia College, 1824 to the Present,” by John Robert Greene, Ph.D.
The site of the present Catherine Cummings Theatre at Cazenovia College was once occupied by the Free Congregational Church, built in 1838. The church was allied with area abolitionists and was the site of meetings and conferences that included well-known area abolitionists.
In 1854 the village voted to buy the Free Church building for use as a hall for meetings and entertainment. The building, named Concert Hall, was enlarged to include a hall with seating for 500 people, a stage and retiring rooms, as well as rooms for the village court and a supper room.
This building was renovated and enlarged in 1886 and renamed the Casa Nova (New Hall), but it burned just ten years later, in 1895. The present theatre, once known as Cazenovia Hall, or Town Hall, was built in 1897 to be used for village business and records storage, with the hall and stage used for public entertainments, which eventually included plays and concerts given by students at Cazenovia College.
Later, Cazenovia Hall became known as the Opera House, and then the Cazenovia Playhouse. Cazenovia College acquired the building in 1968 and, after a renovation, used the facility as a community theatre. In 1970 the Playhouse suspended operation as a commercial theatre and began to book films that were of interest to a collegiate audience.
When Cazenovia College began renting facilities for conferences and seminars in the mid-1970s, the Playhouse was leased to an individual who planned to operate it as a village movie theatre. When this arrangement ended, the theatre became a venue for College-sponsored events, meetings, and conferences.
By the mid-1990s it was apparent that the building was in need of renovation. In 1997, after the development of a renovation plan and initial fundraising, the College held a 100th anniversary celebration for the theatre. The following spring plans were announced for the major renovation of the 240-seat building, with assistance from the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Among the tasks accomplished were major repairs to the building’s exterior and the addition of new audio-visual and lighting equipment.In 2005, a $1 million gift from the Gorman Foundation of Sherrill, N.Y., provided a major addition to the College’s endowment, and a fund for interior refurbishment and ongoing maintenance of the theatre, in memory of Catherine Cummings Gorman, a 1925 alumna who had benefitted greatly by her opportunity to attend the College.
Thanks to the Gorman Foundation, the Catherine Cummings Theatre will provide a venue for cultural events such as plays and concerts, as well as meeting space for the College and the Village. The theatre is part of the Cazenovia Village Historic District, a group of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, roughly bounded by Union, Lincklaen and Chenango streets, and Rippleton Road and Foreman Street.
A plaque in the theatre reads:
With gratitude to the Gorman Foundation of Sherrill, N.Y.,
The Catherine Cummings Theatre at Cazenovia College
is named in honor of Catherine Cummings,
a member of the Cazenovia Seminary Class of 1925.