When a town was still young, community functions took place in churches or in rental halls in the upper floors of commercial blocks. But as a town grew, as Mount Horeb did beginning in the 1880s, local business people often pooled their resources to build a larger downtown facility—in the parlance of the day, an opera house. Dances, lectures, magic lantern shows, masquerades, concerts, political rallies, and high school commencements entertained, informed, and celebrated the community. This building shows an exuberant mixture of styles. The Queen Anne turret has wooden shingles, fluted pilasters, a column-and-arch motif, and a dentil course below the cornice. Romanesque Revival details include the arched entrance lined with quarry-cut stone, a row of round-arched windows on the second story, a corbeled cornice, a tiny arcade between the gabled wall-dormers, and checkerboard and diamond brickwork. The architects, J. O. Gordon and Fred Paunack, led one of Madison’s most prestigious architectural firms at the turn of the twentieth century.
The owners of the Opera Block rented the first-floor retail spaces and the second- and third-story office spaces to local businesses. The opera hall itself occupied a two-story-tall space above the shops at the west end of the building. After the turn of the twentieth century, it hosted fewer performances, although it screened silent movies after 1907. When the opera house closed in 1922, the hall became home to the Masonic Lodge and the related women’s group, the Order of the Eastern Star.