About the Beckwith Theatre Company
A History of Commitment to the Arts
During the mid 19th century, Dowagiac grew up alongside the new railroad to the west. Society was booming and boisterous as in any frontier town. Whiskey, plentiful as milk, sold for 3 cents a dipper. At one point, Dowagiac boasted 16 taverns, many of them on South Front Street. Since Michigan law allowed only 10 taverns per village, 6 of them sadly closed their doors on a very prosperous trade.
There was more to entertainment than a full dipper, though. Men challenged each other to billiards in the taverns, while townsfolk danced in the halls above them. Bicycle riding and horse racing were popular, along with the fun of Dowagiac Union Fairs, which featured sleigh rides, fresh oysters, and a variety of carnival booths. On Courtland Street, St. Paul's Episcopal Church hosted concerts and lectures, while the Dowagiac Mandolin Club, the Round Oak Band, and the Beckwith Memorial Theater Orchestra provided musical fare. The Young Men's Hall alternated between political rallies and theatrical performances. But the most splendid contribution to early Dowagiac social life was the Beckwith Memorial Theater.
Built with Round Oak Furnace Company funds, the theater attracted an impressive array of national talent. Lillian Russel sang arias here, and in 1911, John Philip Sousa directed a rousing performance of "The 1812 Overture" and his own "Stars and Stripes Forever."
In January 1990, a group of Dowagiac area residents took steps to revive a part of their heritage by forming the Beckwith Theatre Company, a not-for-profit organization. Initially, over 70 individuals ranging in age from 7 to 70, devoted their time and talents from acting and directing, to painting and hammering, to establish the Beckwith Theatre Company for a new generation.