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Canton's historic Opera House demolished

Crews expect to finish by Wednesday night

CANTON - Nine months after an explosion left the historic Opera House Professional Building in ruins, Mayor Kent McDowell struggles to watch crews tear down the place he and his wife went on their first date.

"I just don't have words for it," he said.  "It's tough."

It was an emotional day in the city of Canton as a long-standing cornerstone of the community underwent demolition. The building, built in the 1800's, that has endured so much throughout the years could not withstand the damage from a deadly gas explosion in November 2016.

"This building has been through fire and tornado back in '75, and now this explosion and it always seemed to resurrect itself somehow," said McDowell in a bit of disbelief. 

Dozens of people stood by as an excavator knocked the building down. The bricks of the old movie theater, later turned into office space,  held life-lasting memories for Peggy Howarter, 75. She had just returned from celebrating her birthday hours before the explosion last November. 

"It's just a sad, sad thing to see it come down," she said. "But you know it has to happen. But yea it is really sad. It makes me want to cry." 

Not only is history being stripped away, but there are no plans currently to replace the building. An empty lot will become a scarring reminder of the tragic gas explosion that killed an Ameren employee and shuttered local businesses for weeks.

"Unfortunately we are going to be stuck with an eyesore in our downtown kind of like an tooth that's gone from your smile," said Missy Towery, executive director of the Spoon River Partnership for Economic Development.

As the old theater is destroyed, a brand new movie theater is scheduled to open across the street in March 2018. According to the McDowell, The Garden Theatre on N. Main St. will be renovated and become The Majestic, likely one of the few movie theaters in the immediate area.

Crews hope to finish demoltion of the Opera House by Wednesday night, while the community hopes to one day fill the void. 


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