The blue structure stands tucked away on a side street, 152 Park Ave., about a block from the center of town. No bright lights illuminate the entrance, and only a small sign sits in the front yard, announcing the building's name.
"There are people who live in Cortland who don't even know it's here," says Ann Hoover, director of operations for the Opera House, which is owned and operated by the Bazetta-Cortland Historical Society.
With a history of more than 160 years in the community, the Opera House has been a church, a grange meeting hall, a social meeting place and the site of numerous concerts, plays, lectures, seances and more.
The structure was originally erected in 1841 on the other side of town, Hoover explained. Constructed by the Methodist Church, it was meant to serve as a meeting hall and house of worship. But getting to the building soon turned out to be a problem.
"It was on a hill, across the creek," Hoover said. "But there was no bridge crossing the creek and no road leading to the building.
"It makes you wonder what the Methodists were thinking," she jokes.
Moved the building
The congregation moved the building to the site of the current Methodist Church on High Street shortly after the Civil War. But in 1882, the churchgoers opted to build a new home and put the existing building up for sale.
Enter Solomon Kline, a church member who bought the structure. He moved it a few yards behind the new church, and made a few renovations, including adding a stage and removing the belfry.
He named it Kline's Hall, and sponsored a grand opening Feb. 3, 1882. But that name never took, simply because the Warren newspaper at the time gave it a different name.
"The paper called it the Cortland Opera House, and that's the name that stuck," Hoover said.
Through another sale in 1906 to the Union Grange 1575, a reversion of ownership back to the church and then ultimately to the historical society in the late 1970s, the name of the Opera House stuck with the building.
But Hoover points out that the name is a bit of a misnomer.
Despite all the cultural events the building has hosted over the years, not one opera has ever been performed in the Opera House, she said.
That is, not unless you count the aria that was once performed by one of the Opera House ghosts.
The building's ghosts started making their presence known in the late 1980s, Hoover said. The first anyone heard of an unearthly presence was when historical society member Stu Klein was closing up the Opera House after a meeting.
Klein was upstairs getting his coat when he heard a loud crash come from the main hall area. Figuring a group of chairs had fallen over, he went to straighten up. But when he got back in the main hall, nothing was amiss.
"Not long after that, Stu's wife, Dorothy, was closing up after another event," Hoover said. "She heard this thumping sound, like someone was walking around, and called out--but never got an answer. She just hightailed it out of there."
The husband and wife never mentioned the strange occurrences to anyone else, let alone each other, until yet another society member, Cathy Cline, mentioned hearing a man's voice when she was alone in the building.
Folks still didn't think much of a haunted building, and just joked among themselves that good old Solomon Kline was making his presence known to those who shared his last name, Hoover said, until a visitor with a bus tour related her tale.
"She was there for a piano recital, and mentioned that she loved the voice of the woman who was singing the aria during the performance," Hoover said. "But no one was singing that day."
Historical society members quickly tracked the woman down on the bus to ask her name, thinking if it were Klein or some variation of the surname, they would have a theory to work with.
"But the woman said her name was Small," Hoover said. "So we thought that blew our theory out of the water.
"Or at least it did until we did some research and found out that the German word for 'small' is klein," she said.
Hoover said society members now embrace the ghost stories, and like to think it is Solomon Kline coming back to check on his investment.
"I think he would be thrilled to pieces to find out his little Opera House is still going," she said.
Today, the Opera House is used for daily jazzercise classes and meetings of the historical society and the Four Seasons Garden Club, whose members maintain the landscaping at the building. The structure also is available to rent for weddings, meetings, recitals and more.
For rental information, contact Hoover at (330) 638-6680.