Plains Theatre

208 E. Second Street,
Rushville, NE 69360

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Originally built in 1914 as the Gourley Opera House, by 1927 it had been renamed Essaness Theatre. This historic building on Second Street was renamed Plains Theatre in 1938. It later served as a church for a time after the theatre closed. Since 2001, the restored theatre has been home to the Sheridan County Players, which presents legitimate theatre and musicals on the Plains' stage.

The Plains Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

Contributed by Bryan

Recent comments (view all 12 comments)

ronkukal
ronkukal on February 14, 2014 at 11:00 am

If there are no pictures of the interior at the very least someone could try to describe the décor. What always attracted me was the light fixtures on the ceiling and on the walls. The ceiling had light fixtures that resembled wagon wheels and there were figures and figurines made out of a black metal that encircled the wagon wheel just above the rim of the wheel. They were men on horseback, covered wagons, and I think possible coyotes and wolves scattered within. The diffuser for the lights was an orange colored affair. On the walls were replica’s of old lanterns that had electric lights instead of the lamp oil that was used before electric power became a part of our lives. Their were mural’s on the walls but I don’t remember what they were of. The balcony was not very distinctive and the seats were hard word with no cushions as I remember. The exits were clearly marked by electric signs and the hallways you walked down before reaching the actual theater were lined with cardboard depictions of the upcoming movies and the action you would see. Movies were such a grand thing back then, that I remember the owner was there every night dressed up in a suit and sometimes taking tickets. It was a grand old place and something I remember as a child, and will never forget. Movies were fourteen cents for children and I think sixty cents for adults.

ronkukal
ronkukal on February 18, 2014 at 5:09 pm

Yes very familiar. Of course there has been some things done that weren’t there before but essentially this is it. I see the ceiling fixtures were replaced, however the ones on the wall stayed. The door in the center is an added item also. That used to be wide open.

ronkukal
ronkukal on February 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm

On the sidewalk in front of this theater are bricks that are inscribed with the names of donors I think to just keep the bldg. alive and preserve all that can be preserved. In the year of 1952 I was going into my freshman year in high school there. The girl used to be really sweet on was at that very movie theater the night she was murdered. Her name was Karen Talbot. I was at a Boy Scout meeting that night at the Legion Club in the basement, which is only about two blocks away from the theater. After the meeting I got into a car with one of my friends, and we started to cruise around town. I saw Karen coming out of the movie that night, and we stopped to ask her if she wanted a ride home. She was angry with me at the time and wouldn’t get in. After we left her she continued walking to her home and as she walked one of the seniors from our high school stopped and asked her to get in. She got in with him, and to this day I don’t know why, as he certainly was older then her and I suppose she may have done it to spite me. That I will never know, as he took out south of town into the country and tried to have his way with her. She fought him and he hit her, then murdered her with a 22 rifle. His name was Duane McClain and he was a popular high school kid, football player, and all that. She has been gone for many years now, but the memory of this lovely girl never goes away. The story made it into “Inside Detective” I believe the magazine was called. That is one event none of the Rushville people will ever forget. My interest in history of that area was always been somewhat vivid, and feel that these things should not be forgotten. I am one of the survivor’s of the attack on the USS Liberty, June 8, 1967. An event that many would just as soon forget.

ronkukal
ronkukal on February 18, 2014 at 5:33 pm

To add to this, the bricks in front of the theater have her name on one of them. I bought the brick myself, and had it inscribed, in hopes the town of Rushville will never forget her. I know I shall never forget, and buying that brick was one of the most important things I have ever done in my life, as far as I am concerned.

ronkukal
ronkukal on February 25, 2014 at 8:14 pm

I have read the guidelines for posting here so I will do all I can to stay away from nostalgia, but it is tough. Can one fall in love with a certain place, a certain building, in a certain location. Oh yes I believe it is so easy for some of us to do just that. The place where you meant your first girlfriend, and in my case it was back during the days that just sitting by that certain someone was special. If you got your arm around her that was a little bit of heaven. The Plains Theater served the community in so many different ways. A dance hall down below, a stage for several shows that came through Rushville, a skating rink, and possibly more then that, just can’t remember it all. Oh yes and it was a church for many people for a long time, and then a place for local people to come and try out their acting talents. It just doesn’t get much better then that. I would like to leave as much as I can here for posterity, as this Opera House was so much to so many people. It is my sincere hope that others will come on here to bring this wonderful back to life again.

ronkukal
ronkukal on February 26, 2014 at 9:34 pm

Oh I don’t neither, just being careful about off topic discussions. It would be easy to do that here. Yes the lights have been removed, and I doubt if they were kept, however knowing the people who tried to preserve this building they could be stored somewhere. I am sure you are correct about the lights. I have passed this to a couple others, in hopes they will add to what has been said here. I have to chuckle a bit about the standards we set today as far as the load capacity of the theater. By todays standards the capacity would have been sit, back then they were practically hanging from the rafters, especially when a stage show was on tap. Life was a little more simple back then, and going to the Saturday afternoon matinee was a big thing for us kids. A dollar certainly went a long way. Another thing that was normal but a big violation now days were the lack of bathrooms downstairs for the dances. The women would go across the street in the alley, and the men out the side door to another alley, which separated the opera house from the Methodist Church next door.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 25, 2014 at 3:12 am

The July 2, 1938, issue of The Film Daily had this item about the modernization of the Essaness Theatre:

“Rushville Publisher-Exhib. Will Modernize Theater

“Denver — William Barnes, who also publishes the newspaper at Rushville, Neb., has bought the Essaness Theater there, and as a part of his remodeling job has ordered from the National Theater Supply Co. two new Simplex Acme sound projectors, a Walker White sound screen, new carpet and padding as well as new Ezy rug mats.”

Another item in the same issue noted the name change to Plains Theatre:
“The Esseness Theater at Rush- ville, Neb., has been changed to the Plains, and has been taken over by William Barnes from John C. Gates.”

ronkukal
ronkukal on September 29, 2014 at 11:38 am

Joe just happened to come back to this web site today to see what is new. Thank you so much for the article that you just put on here, and really strange I would come back just a few days later to see it. I don’t get on here often. I wish others could see this that could contribute. Since I always knew the Plains as an Opera House and not just a theater I took the time to look it up. It is listed with the Nebraska State Historical Society.

I knew Bill Barnes and was always appreciative of what he did for the city of Rushville. His grandson became the editor of the Omaha World Herald for several years and is now retired in Sidney, Nebraska.

Joe Vogel
Joe Vogel on September 29, 2014 at 2:28 pm

ronkukal: I was actually researching a theater in Rushville, Missouri, and came across that item, as well as items from Rushville, Indiana and Rushville, Illinois, all three of which had theaters called the Princess (Ohio and New York also have Rushvilles, but neither of them had a Princess Theatre.)

The earliest mentions of the Essaness Theatre that I’ve found are in various issues of Exhibitors Herald in 1920, when operator T. C. Shipley frequently sent the magazine capsule reviews of movies he had shown. Later, there is an item datelined Rushville, Neb., in the July 16, 1926, issue of The Film Daily which says “Francis McFarland and Charles Evans are new owners of the Essaness.”

I’ve also come across this web page which has several photos showing the Gourley Opera House and, a bit father down, the Plains Theatre in 1949. It looks as though an entirely new front was put on the building in the 1938 remodeling, along with the first marquee it ever had.

ronkukal
ronkukal on October 16, 2014 at 12:45 pm

I will look this over and thanks. Trying to get a few more people from the Rushville area interested in this.

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