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19th-century opera house known for its rich history, artists who have performed there

Heather Sevigny
Correspondent
Lead singer and guitarist for bluegrass band Shortline Junction, Ben Tharp. The band was able to livestream a show from the Pennyroyal on it’s Facebook page. Donations from livestream events have helped the venue financially after shutting down due to Covid concerns in March.

As you drive through the eastern end of Guernsey County, an odd site might catch your eye. An opera house sits overlooking Interstate 70, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The building's rich history tells of its life in Fairview, and how it's future is precarious at best. 

The property on which the Pennyroyal Opera House sits was originally owned by John and Elizabeth Duncan. Hoping to see a meeting house built for the church, they donated the land to the Presbyterian Church in 1839. Although records are unclear, it is believed the opera house building was constructed in the 1850s.

The night sky highlights the Pennyroyal Opera House in Fairview. The venue has hosted numerous Grammy-nominated and award-winning artists from all across the country.

Eventually, the church trustees decided to sell the property, and David Morris and Mary Smith were able to purchase the land for $100 and remained the owners until 1909. In February of that year, the property again changed hands, this time to Albert Boyd, for a substantial $300. 

It wasn’t until 1910 that the Pennyroyal Reunion Association (PRA) stepped in and purchased the property. The association can trace its roots back to a 19th-century distillery that made insect repellants from the pennyroyal plant. The PRA is still going strong, with eight to 10 active members currently looking after the building. Over the years, the Pennyroyal property and building have served Fairview as a meeting house, church, school, and, most recently, a venue for live music and performances. 

In 1995, with the PRA struggling to cover property taxes and maintain the building, Harold Dailey came up with the idea to renovate and update the property to host live music. One of the first acts to perform was the Lonesome River Band, led by Sammy Shelor, a five-time International Bluegrass Music Association Banjo Player of the Year.

The stage is all set and waiting for the next bluegrass performer at the Pennyroyal Opera House in Fairview.

Over the years numerous renowned Bluegrass artists have performed at the opera house. The Grascals, Hammertowne, and David Davis and the Warrior River Boys are just a few. Last March, like many other live performance venues, the Pennyroyal was forced to close its doors due to COVID-19. Throughout 2020, updates were made to their sound system, and have since been able to live-stream shows on its Facebook page. 

Jim Mercer, a current PRA member, is hopeful that the auditorium will once again be filled with music lovers. Member Andy Sellers notes that one of the most fascinating things about the Pennyroyal is hearing the same band on the radio that he just saw perform at the venue. 

The most recent performance at the Pennyroyal was by Shortline Junction, a local bluegrass band. In the past, the Pennyroyal ran buy-one-get-one-free ticket specials to help bring in funds. Now, after adjusting to COVID regulations, the venue is still trying to bring in money via donations and their live stream events. Mercer is hoping the association will be able to receive funds from the Save our Stages Act. The act gives grants to live venue operators affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, to help them financially stay afloat until performances can resume. 

A new soundboard and system help deliver quality sound for the performance of Shortline Junction. The Pennyroyal was able to make updates in 2020, and plans to continue live streaming events to help bring in money.

Even with their doors closed to the public, the Pennyroyal Opera House remains a local landmark and Fairview treasure.

For more information about the upcoming performances and live-stream events, visit Pennyroyal Opera House Facebook page or contact Andy Sellers at 740-213-5987. The Pennyroyal is located off Interstate 70, exit 198, on Old National Road in Fairview.