Entrepreneur, philanthopist, and partly closeted freethinker William Smith constructed this 3-1/2 story brick and stone Richardsonian Romanesque theater in 1894 to bring the arts and culture to Geneva and the Finger Lakes region. The inaugural production, a staging of The Count of Monte Cristo, starred James O’Neill, father of playwright Eugene O’Neill. Over the years, the building had three names and was twice almost demolished. To mark the building’s centennial in 1994, a lavish restoration begun. The exterior was restored to the original 1894 appearance; the interior was restored to 1931, when it was an opulent art deco movie theater.
"The Smith," as it is now called, currently serves as a live-events venue, often hosting traveling Broadway shows and other major productions.
During William Smith’s life, he repeatedly donated the use of the opera house to his close friend, suffrage activist Elizabeth Smith Miller, for woman's (nineteenth-century practice was to use the singular, woman's; later practice was to use the plural, women's) suffrage conferences. Speakers at these events included Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other prominent suffragists. One of the most significant such events was the statewide convention of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA), held at the Opera House and two other Geneva venues on November 3–6, 1897. Isabel Howland, of the prominent abolitionist Howland family of Sherwood and a college classmate of Elizabeth Smith Miller’s, served as Treasurer of the Convention.
In 1906, at the urging of Miller and other feminists, William Smith made the largest gift of his life: approximately $500,000 (nearly $12 million today) to found the William Smith College for Women, now part of Hobart and William Smith Colleges .