Charles Goss, founder of the Goss, was born in Buckinghamshire England in 1832. He moved to America when he was 11 and lived in New York until he was 19. It was then that he moved to Sparta, WI, and lived there with his wife and 8 children. As fate would have it, Charles lost 7 of his children and wife Cordelia, leaving him alone with an infant daughter, Emma.
It was then the he embarked on his next journey. Almost penniless, he left Wisconsin and headed to South Dakota. He brought with him enough wood to build a structure to house himself and his business (he was a barber and druggist) a hall and rental spaces.
This first building was the only hall in town and his business became quite popular. Unfortunately, the first building burned to the ground in April 1988, four years after completion. However, this did not faze Charles. He immediately hired an architect and began plans for the building we still have today. Goss, a determined businessman, set the foundation in June 1888 for the Goss block. His original concept to build a hotel on the spot was replaced by a notion to construct a public hall for community gatherings and entertainment. The Goss Opera Hall at the corner of Kemp Avenue and Maple Street opened to rave reviews on Dec. 13, 1889.
The opera house, on the second floor of the Goss block building above what was Kreiser’s Drug Store for many years, is the last reminder of an age in Watertown when theater played a significant role in leisure life. After extensive restoration work, it has been brought back to its former luster as one of Watertown’s three opera houses! The Goss is the last of the three.
The three-story structure has 125 feet of frontage on Maple Street and 65 Feet on Kemp Avenue. He divided the Maple side into four ground floor stores and the Kemp side into three store fronts. The second floor and third floor house the mammoth opera house and also include office spaces facing outside.
The Goss opened in the spring of 1889, the same year South Dakota became a state. The building’s opening vindicated Goss’ dream that there was, indeed, a market in Watertown for another entertainment facility, despite the castigation he received from the local press and community leaders. However, everyone soon became a believer when Goss opened the doors almost a century ago.
The Public Opinion reported on one of the grandest spectacles produced at the Goss during late 1889:
“Goss Hall was filled last night with a large and appreciative audience to witness the Merchant’s Carnival which the ladies of the Congregational Church have had in preparation for several weeks. The entertainment opened with a grand march by 60 ladies in costumes, carrying banners . . . The varied colored costumes and banners with their gold, silver and variegated trimmings glistening in the gaslight, presented a dazzling scene such as never has been witness in Watertown.”
Since then, the theater hosted many festive events, including the organization of the Republican Club, which held many of its meetings there.
A program on August 9, 1901, notes that the Goss Block cost $50,000 and was the largest opera hall in the state, capable of seating 1,500 people. Today, we know the maximum capacity is closer to 550.
Goss: A Dream Waiting to be Re-Discovered
Thursday, September 8, 1983.