Oil boom boosts Sistersville theater second time around - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Oil boom boosts Sistersville theater second time around

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Photo courtesy of Terry Wiley. Terry Wiley, owner of the Gaslight Theater and other Sistersville businesses, is launching an entertainment series in March in hopes of revitalizing the town’s entertainment offerings. Photo courtesy of Terry Wiley. Terry Wiley, owner of the Gaslight Theater and other Sistersville businesses, is launching an entertainment series in March in hopes of revitalizing the town’s entertainment offerings.
A 1907 Ivers and Pond grand piano sits on the theater’s 18-by-36-foot stage. Vocalists Nick Fiasco and Donna Bailey will perform at the Gaslight in March and April. A 1907 Ivers and Pond grand piano sits on the theater’s 18-by-36-foot stage. Vocalists Nick Fiasco and Donna Bailey will perform at the Gaslight in March and April.
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By CYNTHIA MCCLOUD
For The State Journal

Sistersville once boasted the most millionaires per capita of anywhere in the country. The area's wealth was fueled by an oil boom in the late 1800s and early 1900s. 

"That's why Sistersville has so much Victorian architecture and very opulent buildings," said Jim "Cork" Bowen, Paden City resident and community developer. 

One of those buildings is still serving its original function: as a theater.

"The Gaslight used to be called The Paramount," owner Terry Wiley said. "Built in 1898, it was a large theater. You could see a movie for 5 cents then.

"People who come to see it can't believe this is here," he said. "Performers are amazed by the sound quality. Those who have never seen the theater are simply amazed by it."

The theater, at 719 Wells St., is on the second floor of a building that also houses Wiley's country store that sells antiques, Farmers Harvest. His other businesses include the Sistersville Candy Co.

Wiley bought the Gaslight building almost three years ago and decided to revamp and reopen the theater. Originally seating 400 people on the first floor and in the balcony, The Gaslight can now accommodate 200 spectators.

"We salvaged enough seats to restore the balcony and it has the red velvet curtains and seat covers," Wiley said. 

There's a 1907 Ivers and Pond grand piano sitting on an 18-by-36-foot oak stage. The original projector sits idle in the projection room, but Wiley could use it to show old movies if he liked. Usually films in VHS or DVD format with Surround Sound are shown. For the Christmas season, the Gaslight showed "It's a Wonderful Life." 

It also has played host to Santa Claus, authors who want to present book signings and everything else from storytellers and comedians to weddings.

Wiley said the pair is trying to create hometown nostalgia while making Sistersville an entertainment destination.

"Sistersville has something no other town in West Virginia has," he said. "We have the only ferry that crosses the Ohio River. The ferry itself will be 200 years old in about 2017. We're not sure when it started. 

"Tyler County is the only county that doesn't have a bridge that crosses the Ohio, so we have a ferry that operates Easter through Thanksgiving. Lots of people who come to visit Sistersville and look for unique shops have suggested a theater. It's gradually becoming a destination point."

Bowen said the theater's popularity is growing, thanks to the same industry that created the town's wealth the first time around.

"Here it is, 100 years later, and we have another oil boom (the exploration in the Marcellus Shale) and the renaissance of this building is beginning to take place," he said.

Wiley and Bowen have started the Gaslight Theater Entertainment Series, which will kick off March 21 with Nick Fiasco, who sings selections from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin and others from the Big Band era. The theater hosts jazz vocalist Donna Bailey from Pittsburgh accompanied by her three-piece band April 26.

Both shows will start at 8 p.m. and break for a short intermission between two sets of music.

Proceeds from the performances will benefit the Sistersville General Hospital Foundation and the Paden City Foundation.

"The Sistersville General Hospital Foundation supports major investments and equipment upgrades," Bowen said. "The Paden City Foundation provides scholarships for Paden City High School students, upkeep and improvements to the Paden City Museum & Cultural Center and other endeavors to enhance the life of Paden City citizens.

"We are actively seeking underwriters to help with promotion of the events," Bowen added.

The organizers hope the entertainment series will be monthly, and they are negotiating with The Wells Inn, a restored hotel built about the same time as the theater building, to offer dinner and lodging packages.

For tickets or information, call 304-652-1707.