The Chestnut Street Opera House, Sunbury, PA
100 years ago
by Don Taylor
“Donna 100 years ago” is my reporting items relating to my grandmother, Madonna Montran (aka Donna Montran and Donna Darling). Hers was the exciting world of 1920s vaudeville. She crisscrossed the country with her many shows.
This week, I rely upon a previous Darling Darling Collection posting from 2018 (Part 25). In it, I learned that Donna played at the Chestnut Street Opera House in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, for three days, February 6th, 7th, & 8th, 1922.
“Donna Darling & Boys” played at the Strand Theater in Ithaca, NY, the week before, had Sunday off and then traveled the 140 miles south to Sunbury, PA. Travel to Sunbury was probably difficult. There were no direct trains between the two cities. Only the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad[i] and Pennsylvania Railroad[ii] (later part of Penn Central) serviced Sunbury, and neither went to Ithaca in the 1920s. She, and the troupe, probably changed trains at Pittston or Wilkes Berre.
Sunbury was growing in the 1920s. Settled in 1772 and made a borough in 1797, Sunbury was incorporated as a city in 1920. Its population had grown from 14,000 in 1910 to nearly 16,000 in 1920.[iii] Since then, its population has slowly declined to just over 9,000 today (2019 est.).
The Chestnut Street Opera House was a small theatre with a seating capacity of only 971.[iv] There were two newspapers in Sunbury at the time, “The Sunbury” and the “Sunbury Daily Item.” Newspapers.com has a limited number of the “Sunbury Daily Item,” however, it is missing papers from 4 February until 18 February 1922. Likewise, Chronicling America, Genealogy Bank, Newspaper Archives, and the Pennsylvania Newspaper Archive have no newspapers from February 1922.
So, if it weren’t for Donna’s Scrapbook collection, I wouldn’t know she was ever in Sunbury.
After three days in Sunbury, the cast and props headed the 19 miles along the Pennsylvania Railroad to Shamokin, PA, and the Strand Theater, for another three-night show (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday).
One hundred years ago, February 6th through 8th, 1922, my grandmother was the headliner in her vaudeville act, “Miss Donna Darling.” She played at the Chestnut Street Opera House in Sunbury, Pennsylvania.
[iii] US Census Records for 1910 & 1920.
[iv] The Julius Cahn-Gus Hill Theatrical Guide … v.18 1919