The Stafford Opera House’s Second Empire-style design is attributed to architect Nicholas Joseph Clayton, an advocate of the High Victorian movement. Mr. Clayton drew inspiration from the classic architectural styles of the era to create elaborate ornamentation. The building is constructed of brick with iron in the foundation. It has a metal mansard roof and parapets. The bricks were handmade on the Quinn Walker Place at Skull Creek, near Columbus. All of the metal work for the interior columns, thresholds, and lintels were cast at the Galveston Foundry in Galveston. A gas chandelier lighted the hall. The glass globes are reproductions of ones that originally hung in the building.
The Opera House’s unique architectural details include horizontal brick banding, two-colored brickwork, inset brick panels, and three-part window compositions. The second floor theater is spanned with heavy timber trusses. Gracefully curved metal canopies at the second floor level were an original part of the building.
The Grand Hall main floor originally sat 600 people with another 400 fitting in the balcony. The 1886 Stafford Opera House is the largest flat-floored opera house in Texas and is the only flat-floored opera house still in existence in the state. The original cost of the building was $50,000. The curtain, wings, and stage equipment cost an additional $10,000.
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.
On July 7, 1890 Mr. Stafford and his younger brother John attended a ceremony to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone for the new county courthouse. After the ceremony, Mr. Stafford got into an argument with city marshal Larkin Hope. The argument ended when Mr. Hope and his brother Marion shot and killed both Stafford brothers. The Stafford murders only worsened the ongoing Townsend-Stafford Feud in Columbus as the Hope brothers were members of the Townsend family. The Stafford-Townsend Feud is Texas’ longest running feud, lasting from 1871 to 1911.
The last performance at the Stafford Opera House during that era was in 1916. Mrs. Stafford sold the building to Mr. Guilmartin who owned the local Ford Motor Company dealership. Mr. Guilmartin moved his dealership to the first floor of the building. It was rumored that someone killed his prized bird dog but no one would admit to the crime. To punish the town, he tore down the Opera House stage curtain and put it over his hog pen.
The 1886 Stafford Opera House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Today, the Columbus Historical Preservation Trust, Inc. (CHPT) owns the property and carries on the tradition of presenting live theater and entertainment on the Grand Hall stage. The space is also used for weddings, meetings, conventions, school and church functions, and other events.