WAYLAND — A big part of Wayland’s entertainment history came to life with a presentation of the Weinhart Opera House.
Gloria Wilkins talked about her family ties to the area, and the rich history around it at the Wayland Area Historical Society on July 1.
It all started with her great-grandpa Conrad Weinhart and great-uncle Joseph Weinhart when they created the Weinhart Opera House in the early 1900s. This was also known as “A Muz U Hall” in 1918 when they began showing silent films. Tragedy struck in 1965 when this once booming business was torn down to create a parking lot for the future bank on West Naples Street.
“I grew up at 18 S. Main Street. My father (Wilson Magin) had a TV Shop built on the side of the house. I lived in Wayland all of my life, and have come back to share this story with you,” Wilkins said. “I am going to talk to you about the value of keeping family things. Most of us have added things over the generations of keepers.”
Wilkins said that much of the family treasures have been shared with other members of the family, but she wanted to put it all together before it was lost to the era it was born in.
There are two parts to this story about love, family, and the power of theater. First, Wilkins talked about the Weinhart Brothers, and the legacy they left behind in Wayland.
In the late 1800s Conrad and Helen Weinhart created a Weinhart Grocery Store in the area. They built some of the first early homes in the area. Conrad and Joseph found a skating rink that was big enough to hold an opera house, and began creating the successful business overtime. Lottie Weinhart, daughter on Conrad, would play music when the silent films came on.
Second, Wilkins talked about Victor Sr. and Jessica Erhart, and how their son, Victor Jr. came to love and marry Lottie Weinhart.
“Victor Sr. mastered the violin, and went to teach it in Texas. He married a woman named Jessica, and they had a son named Victor Jr., and a daughter named Marie,” Wilkins said. “Jessica was the star of a play called ‘A Dream of Fair Women’ and would make her own show dresses. The show was such a hit that they took to the road for the rest of their lives to entertain 1,000s of people.”
Wilkins inherited four huge trunks filled with the history of the Erhart and Weinhart family. There were several treasures in those carefully preserved pieces of history; including about 200 letters, mostly between Jessica and Marie Erhart.
Wilkins said that it was for this reason that she was able to provide such a vivid history of her family’s past, and the legacy they left behind.
The Erhart Entertainers typically had about 100 to 200 people participate in the plays, and they only had two weeks to learn lines, dances, and be ready to perform on stage. They performed all over including Naples, Dansville, and Wayland. They even enjoyed performing at the Wayland American Legion Theater several times.
Lottie (Weinhart) Erhart carried on the family name by keeping music alive, and was part of many more shows to come. She started directing Minstrel Shows in 1951.
“I got to watch grandma do this once when I was about eight years old. She really enjoyed putting on a show,” Wilkins said. “She would end every show with her own version of ‘I’ll See You Again’ and the whole cast would sing it to the audience.”
Wilkins took her great-grandpa Victor Sr. Erharts original music he had handwritten over the years, and with a special program turned it all into music. It was a great treat to hear what the music would’ve sounded like a century ago. She even has her great-grandma Jessica Erharts handmade customs that are a century old.
We Wear History came out to support the program. Members included; Brenda Yeoman, Belinda Schuler, Veronica and Jake Weiand. They helped escort people to the program, and gave some insight into the time period.