Of Our History

The information in this timeline was taken from multiple sources and they will be made available to you to read in their entirety. They include articles from the What Cheer 100 year centennial book and What Cheer 150 years of History 1865-2015

Masonic Lodge

In 1868 a group of Master Masons decided to organize a lodge at Coal Creek. On July 29,1869, Universe Lodge No. 242 AF & AM was organized under the authorization of R. Mickel, grand master of Masons of Iowa. A movement was made to move the organization to Indianapolis, but it failed.


Odd Fellows Hall

By 1877, there was large number of men from What Cheer that had joined the lodge. A movement to move the lodge to What Cheer was made, and on January 12, 1878, the first meeting was held at the Odd Fellows Hall in What Cheer. Meanwhile, by 1885 the Lortscher Opera House was entertaining locals in the top floor of the Savings Bank which was located just North of where the Opera House stands today.


The Fire of 1890

The great fire of Sunday, August 3, 1890 cost What Cheer approximatly $200,000 in damaged and lost property. It destroyed 28 dwellings and 20 businesses; fortunately no lives were lost. The Lortscher Opera House was a casualty of the fire. The origin of the fire was never determined. After the big fire, the masons decided to build a Masonic Hall & Opera House.


Masonic Opera House

The site of the new opera house was purchased in 1892 by the Masonic lodge, and the opera house that we see standing today was built in 1893. The first two floors were designed to serve as the opera house and the Masons used the third floor as the lodge hall. The funding ($15,000) for this project came from a combination of a loan from the Savings bank and shares purchased by members.


It's Showtime!

The What Cheer Opera House was only two blocks from the railroad making it an easy stop for many travelling performers. In addition, special excursion trains were scheduled by the railroad to bring in passengers from South English, Belle Plaine, and Montezuma to see the shows. Many famous performers took the stage during this time.


End of the Coal Boom

By the early 1900's the coal boom was over. Trains were needed less and the automobile had arrived. Radio, records and motion pictures brought a new and exciting option for entertainment, so the Opera House was transformed into a movie theater for silent film. By 1953, the population had dwindled and the screen went dark. From 1953-1965, the What Cheer Opera House saw little to no use.


"Save the Opera House"

By 1965, the Masonic Lodge had decided to build a new temple and sold the Opera House to a contractor in Des Moines for $500.00. It was slated for destruction as the contractor was interested in harvesting the brick. 1965 was the year What Cheer was to celebrate its centennial as an incorporated town and many expressed interest in keeping the building intact through the celebration. Lee Coulon, a local farmer, headed up a group to save the opera house and raised enough money to buy the contractor out and to buy the deed from the lodge. This was the beginning of the non-profit organization known as the What Cheer Opera House, Inc.


The Big Band Era

In 1966, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians were invited to perform at the Opera House. He acepted and was impressed by the Opera House and it's acoustics. He encouraged fellow entertainers to make the trip to What Cheer. Thus began an era of big bands in the Opera House. The bands weren't alone. During this time, country and pop stars along with local performers also performed on the stage. In 1973, the Opera House was listed on the National Register of Historical places.


Loved by Many

In 2019 the What Cheer Opera House received a much needed new roof. In the spring of 2021, the Opera House applied for a grant to continue much needed structural repairs including tuck pointing the brick stucture, refinishing the stage, reinforcing joists in the basement, fresh paint on the interior, and repair of the ceiling on the third floor. In order to qualify for the $100,000 grant, the Opera House must raise $100,000 of it's own. Please see our Donate page to learn more and to contribute to the effort!