WEISIGER THEATRE: The Story Behind the Name

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of Centrepiece. 

Emma Weisiger’s 1952 bequest—including $40,000 specifically toward a building—prompted construction of the Emma Weisiger art and music building on the Kentucky College for Women Campus. With the 1962 merger of the men’s and women’s campuses and the 1973 opening of the Regional Arts Center (now called the Norton Center for the Arts), the Weisiger building was no longer needed. After the College sold it in 1977, the Centre board voted to name the smaller 385-seat “experimental theater” in the new arts center for her.

Emma Weisiger graduated from Caldwell College in the Class of 1876. Caldwell later became the Kentucky College for Women and later still the Woman’s Department of Centre. A lifelong member of the Presbyterian Church, she was a Sunday School teacher for 40 years according to her obituary. She loved the arts and was an accomplished painter and potter.

She lived for almost 80 years in her childhood home at 425 Broadway, sharing it for much of that time with her brothers and sister.

Portrait of Emma Weisiger

As the youngest—and longest lived—of four children, only one of whom married, she was the beneficiary of three generations devoted to “buying Danville,” as the historian Calvin Fackler once described them. When she died in 1952 at the age of 93, she was said to be one of the richest women in Danville. Among the many properties she inherited was the land where Constitution Square is today. In 1937, anticipating the 150th anniversary of statehood and the adoption of Kentucky’s first constitution, written in a building in the square, she gave the property to the state. It was to be called the John Gill Weisiger Memorial State Park in memory of her older brother, who had acquired the property from the Danville Theological Seminary in 1901.

In 1938 the Chamber of Commerce recognized her as a “citizen of Danville who had rendered the most valuable community service during the past year.”

She also inherited Ephraim McDowell’s house, now a museum devoted to the pioneering early 19th-century surgeon (and a founding member of Centre’s board). Her surgeon father, John Rochester Weisiger, had acquired the McDowell house from Ephraim McDowell’s heirs, and it remained in the Weisiger family for nearly a century. In 1939, Emma and her sister, Lucy Weisiger Harding, sold it to the Kentucky State Medical Association.

Emma Weisiger’s will, which was frontage news in the Kentucky Advocate, left her property on the corner of Fourth and Main to the city for a park to be called Weisiger Memorial Park in memory of her brother Malcolm. He had once owned a historic hotel and rooming house on the lot (which burned in 1933) and ran a cinema, the Colonial Theater, nearby. Her will stipulated that the park should “show forth the beauty of grass and flower” and could never be sold.

Her will additionally supported the arts at Centre’s women’s campus with a bequest of approximately $190,000 ($1.8 million today). The Emma Weisiger Art and Music Building, which she directed was to be built of “brick with stone trim to be in harmony with the other buildings on the campus of the Woman’s College,” received $40,000 toward its construction and $10,000 for furnishings. The remainder of her bequest was to be used for an endowment to maintain the building and to support arts programming. The $225,000 building project received another $37,000 from the Danville community and approximately $138,000 from a successful statewide Presbyterian Synod campaign to raise $850,000 for Christian higher education. Hugh Nevin, a Centre trustee who built much of the main Centre campus, designed the arts building as well. The Danville Independent School District recently bought the building. Danville High School, built on the old KCW campus, is adjacent.

by Diane Johnson
July 11, 2019

By |2019-07-11T14:06:45+00:00July 11th, 2019|Academics, Art History, Buildings, Campus, Music, News, Studio Art|