When the Opera House opened in 1878, the hardy audience of miners sat in folded wrought iron chairs as they enjoyed the fruits of their labor. Later, owner Peter McFarlane replaced them with sturdy hickory chairs that were used until the house closed in 1927.
When Anne Evans and Ida Kruse McFarlane revived the Opera House as a summer festival in 1932, they discovered that most of the hickory chairs were still in good condition and came up with the clever fundraising idea to “sell” each chair and allow the purchaser to name the chair in honor of a Colorado pioneer. Chairs were purchased by the descendants and friends of early settlers, who carved their names on to the seatbacks, along with the date the honoree had arrived in Colorado. Many names are still familiar today—Roeschlaub, Boettcher, Bonfils, Tabor, Elitch, Elbert, Gilpin and more.
During this time, the Opera House could hold 750 hickory chairs. In 1999, the hickory chairs were replaced with plush theatre-style seats which reduced the capacity to 550 and the names from the old chairs were transferred to the new seats. Most of the hickory chairs remain in private collections, in storage or in the various properties in Central City owned by the Opera. As of 2021, over 300 names of distinguished Coloradans have been carved into Central City Opera’s memorial chairs.