Entrepreneur, philanthopist, and partly closeted freethinker William Smith constructed this three-and-a-half 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 was begun. The exterior was restored to the original 1894 appearance; the interior was restored to its appearance as of 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 suffrage conferences. (Nineteenth-century practice was to use the singular, woman or woman's, when referring to women as a class; later practice was to use the plural, women or women's). Speakers at these events included Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and other prominent suffragists.
The 1897 Suffrage Convention. One of the most significant such events was the twenty-ninth annual convention of the New York State Woman Suffrage Association (NYSWSA), held at the Opera House and two other Geneva venues on Wednesday through Saturday, November 3–6, 1897. Isabel Howland, of the prominent abolitionist Howland family of Sherwood, served as treasurer of the convention (she was simultaneously Corresponding Secretary of the NYSWSA). Speakers included Syracuse activist Harriet May Mills. Among the approximately 150 attendees was Auburn suffrage campaigner and philanthropist Eliza Wright Osborne, whose home site is on the Freethought Trail.
Plenary sessions were held at the Smith Opera House on Thursday and Friday, November 4–5.
Friday's evening session concluded the public portion of the 1897 convention, though NYSWSA's Executive Committee met on the morning of Saturday, November 6, at the Hotel Nester.
Women's College Founded. 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.