Mr. Toquet’s Opera House

Alert “0688o” reader Seth Schachter spotted this gem for sale on eBay:

Toquet ticket

It’s an invitation to an informal reception at the Westport Opera House on December 29 — of 1892.

Smythe’s Orchestra was going to play. The cost for gentlemen was $1. Apparently, women were free.

The most interesting part of the invitation is the 3rd name on the “Committee.” Besides Gould Jelliff and Arthur Jelliff, there was B. Louis Toquet.

Here’s the back story (thanks to Woody Klein’s history of Westport):

Benjamin H. Toquet was born in Paris in 1834, and came to America in 1845. He served in the Civil War, then returned to Westport.

His son — the B(enjamin) Louis Toquet on the invitation — was born in 1864.

Toward the end of the century the younger Toquet — now a respected businessman — built an opera house on Post Road property inherited by his wife, Nellie Bradley. The first town meeting was held there on April 2, 1892.

For the next 17 years, all town meetings and assemblies were held there.

Toquet's opera house, today.

Toquet’s opera house, today.

The older Toquet died in 1913, a successful entrepreneur. He headed up the Toquet Motor Company, which developed carburetors for Fords.

B. Lewis Toquet had a daughter, Vivienne. His family — and his father — lived at 10 Avery Place. As of 1946, he was still living there.

In 2016, of course, the 2nd floor Post Road/Jesup Road alley space is not an opera house. It’s a teen center — and it’s named for Toquet.

Rock bands play there. Hip hop artists, comedians and magicians perform. Teenagers put on plays.

No opera, though.

Go figure.

PS: The eBay invitation sold this morning. The price was $9 — 9 times more than admission to the opera house, 124 years ago.

Fighting Static, live at Toquet Hall.

Fighting Static, live at Toquet Hall.

8 responses to “Mr. Toquet’s Opera House

  1. Our Mikey has a gig there with his band, Forgetting Fame, on Sunday…also not opera…go figure.

  2. Kevin Godburn - Youth Services Program Director/Toquet Hall

    Thanks Dan! Very cool to learn a little more of the rich history behind this space.

    While we haven’t had any opera, we’re lucky to be part of a Town with so many unbelievably talented students and a great appreciation for the arts. Perhaps opera will eventually find its way onto our schedule? I’d never say never. In the meantime, we’ll have some great local bands coming up and live theater returns with the unparalleled Staples Players and their next Studio here in June.

    To connect with one of your earlier articles…We can’t boast the rock legends that have played some of the larger Westport venues, but we’ve quietly been able to host and pair our local student performers with shows with rising stars: Rachel Platten, The Blue Pages (now American Authors), Steel Train (led by Jack Antonoff of fun. & Bleachers), Metro Station, as well as Comedians: Bill Burr, Bo Burnham, and Mike Birbiglia to name a few.

  3. Jack Whittle

    I have the same invitation in my collection of Westport “artifacts” – while already recognized the Toquet name and guessed the “Opera House” was Toquet Hall, it sure is nice to get confirmation here. I have to point out that $1 was a princely sum in 1892.

    Oh yeah, I also have a pamphlet advertising Toquet carburetors, which “makes your Ford run like a SIX”

    • Morley Boyd

      Jack, by any chance do you know where the Toquet Motor Co. was located?

      • Jack Whittle

        Morely – Acoording to the back page of the pamphlet (from 1921), the Toquet Carburetor Corporation sales office and factory was located in Westport, Connecticut. That’s as specific as the pamphlet gets.

        Suggest you search the Westport Town Clerks Office on-line records using ” Toquet” – you will likely get a hit that might answer your question.

  4. Jack Whittle

    By the way, the “B. Lewis Toquet” named in the invitation was the son of Benjamin H. Toquet – it seems Benjamin Lewis Toquet (b. 1864) wanted to distinguish himself from his father, so he went by his middle name Lewis. Benjamin H. Toquet (the father) did die in 1913 (buried in Willowbrook) but B. Lewis Toquet the son is the one who married Nellie Bradley, they had a daughter Vivienne, and they, along with the elder B.H. Toquet before he died, lived in a house at 10 Avery Place. B. Lewis Toquet would live in Westport for quite some time after his father died in 1913 – I see him in the 1946 Westport Directory still living at 10 Avery Pl. Not sure when he died, I suspect he is in Willowbrook too.