After the Great Milton Fire of 1909 destroyed most of the downtown commercial district, there was a need for a new public auditorium in town. Thus, in 1912, the president of Milton’s First National Bank, Stephen J. Harvey, financed the construction of the Milton Opera House, which opened its doors in October 1913.
The auditorium’s earliest venues were traveling vaudeville shows, and silent moving pictures – the very first of which was The Passion Play – a six reel depiction of the life of Christ. The original roll-up door and block & tackle used by performers to hoist their large steamer trunks up to the theatre level, are still intact on the back of the building. In 1921 the Gooch family bought the auditorium and renamed it after their young daughter – Imogene. Tragically, Mr. Gooch passed away only months after taking ownership of the theatre, but the name stuck.
In 1924, three time Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan gave a speech on the Imogene stage. By 1938, the Imogene was undergoing its first renovation which included central air – a first in Milton. With the advent of sound and color at the movies – classics such as Gone With The Wind and The Wizard Of OZ graced the Imogene’s Screen. From the very beginning the first floor of the building was used as retail space and was even home to the Milton Post Office for almost thirty years.
Ultimately, the theatre closed it’s doors in 1946 when a new theatre was opened downtown on Elmira Street. The last of the businesses to occupy the first floor were gone by 1980. With a Failing roof and peeling plaster the abandoned building was purchased by The Santa Rosa Historical Society in 1985. With the help of state grants, the society saved The Imogene and reopened it to the public in 1987.
Then, Nearly 100 years to the day of the 1909 fire, another conflagration ripped through Downtown Milton, severely damaging the theatre. Now, The Historical Society has tended to her wounds and stands ready to welcome the public once again.