The Stafford’s Second Empire-style design is attributed to architect Nicholas Joseph Clayton, an advocate of the High Victorian movement, who loved to draw inspiration from the classic architectural styles of the era to create elaborate ornamentation. Bricks used for the building were handmade at the Quinn Walker Ranch on Skull Creek, near Columbus. The iron threshold and columns were made by The Galveston Iron Works. A gas chandelier lighted the hall. The current globes are duplicates of the ones that originally hung in the building.
The original cost of the building was $50,000. The curtain, wings, and stage equipment cost an additional $10,000. Originally the floor sat 600 people with 400 in the balcony. It is the largest flat-floored opera house in Texas.
Downstairs housed the Stafford Bank, a private bank owned by R. E. Stafford as well as a large dry goods store operated by Mr. Senftenberg (owner of the Senftenberg-Brandon House). The Grand Hall held theatrical performances, local dances, skating parties, basketball games, and even a few wrestling matches for local townspeople.
The Stafford family home sat directly next door to the Opera House. It was said that Mr. Stafford could watch performances on stage from his bedroom window. Talk about VIP seating!
In 1890 Mr. Stafford and his brother attended the laying of the cornerstone for the new county courthouse. They were both killed by Sheriff Larkin Hope over a confrontation about the sheriff’s son’s arrest for drinking and disorderly conduct. This was the beginning of the Townsend-Stafford feud that lasted nearly 25 years.
The last performance at the Stafford Opera House during this era was in 1916. Mrs. Stafford sold the building to Mr. Guilmartin who owned the local Ford Motor Company dealership, which he housed on the first floor of the building. It was rumored that someone killed his prized bird dog and no one would admit to the crime. So to punish the town he tore down the stage curtain and put it over his hog pen.
Today, the Columbus Historical Preservation Trust serves as steward of the Stafford Opera House, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. CHPT also carries on the tradition of presenting live theater to audiences on the Grand Hall stage.