Historic Cynthiana landmark prepares to celebrate 150 years

In Harrison County, a theater that has stood the test of time actually flourished last year and will soon celebrate a huge milestone.
Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 4:19 PM EST
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CYNTHIANA, Ky. (WKYT) - It’s no secret the pandemic took a tool on a number of industries, including entertainment. AMC, the world’s largest theater chain, lost nearly $5 billion last year. For small town movie houses, it was enough to force some to shutter.

But in Harrison County, a theater that has stood the test of time actually flourished last year and will soon celebrate a huge milestone.

Off Main Street and tucked in the heart of downtown Cynthiana is a building that may look her age, but the sign is what draws you in.

“If you look around the state, and all across the nation, most small towns like Cynthiana don’t have a theater like this. For some reason, this one is still open,” said Mayor James Smith.

To Mayor Smith, the Rohs Opera House represents all that is good in his hometown, a place he grew up loving movies. It’s why 15 years ago in the middle of the recession, he and some high school friends teamed up to save it.

“We just felt that if the theater went down, the town was going to go down, so we took a chance and opened it up,” said Smith.

First opening with the Aeolian Hall in 1871, the now-vacant hall sits above the current theater. Then, in 1873, H.A. Ross bought it and renamed it Rohs Opera House.

Eventually, silent movies were added and then in 1941 the current opera house opened to crowds of people.

Over the years it has taken thousands of dollars in renovations to keep the theater going, but each dollar helped breathe new life into what has now become a vibrant arts scene.

“I think it brings a sense of pride and ownership to your town,” said Austin Dacci, the president of the Cynthiana Arts Council.

From movies to community theater, it’s something Dacci said is needed.

“When you think of community, you think of culture and Cynthiana has just been very lucky to have a legendary venue like this,” said Dacci.

At 150 years old, the historic venue is a gem, and one its owners think may be the only one like it in terms of age.

“We did some research we don’t think that there is a theater in the state of Kentucky that is older than the Rohs Opera House,” said Smith.

It hasn’t been easy operating in a modern world. The Rohs flipped the switch to digital, thanks to a generous donation from Cynthiana native and co-creator of the Walking Dead Robert Kirkman.

When the pandemic hit, the historic theater hung on. It sold popcorn to go and turned to the golden oldies when new Hollywood films weren’t available. It introduced a new audience to some of the classics that allowed the doors to stay open.

“Even though the pandemic hit theaters really hard here at the Rohs Opera House, we had one of our best years, not just last year, but this year, and its turning out to be one of the best years and its all because of the community and how much they love this place,” said Smith.

It is a place that for 150 years has been bringing people together and as it prepares to celebrate a milestone, its owners and community hope it’s around for generations to come.

“I hope it provides that connection in the community that brings people together,” said Smith.

If you’re into spooky stories, the Rohs is said to be haunted. Also, H.A. Ross and his son are the grandfather and great grandfather of Chris O’Donnell, who you see on NCIS Los Angeles.

A celebration for the Rohs Opera House will happen Friday, Dec. 10 at 6:30 p.m. with tours. Folks are encouraged to drop in and celebrate.

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