After its founding in 1994, the Delphi Preservation Society worked to save the Hamilton Street Bridge over Deer Creek in Delphi. The 1891 Whipple Truss span was built by Lafayette Bridge Company and was the last remaining bridge of its type in Indiana. It had just achieved listing in the National Register of Historic Places when it was brought down on July 30, 1995 by the weight of a PSI Energy truck whose driver had ignored the posted height and weight restrictions. Soon it was determined that the bridge could not be saved and it was replaced with a concrete span.
The Society received a portion of a settlement by the company for damages. With those funds, the Society was able to purchase two-thirds of the City Hall building. (The remaining third would be purchased in 2007 with funds donated by local historian Charles Gerard.)
Following the acquisition of the building, DPS commissioned a feasibility study for renovation of the Assion-Ruffing City Hall and Delphi Opera House (1997) and moved quickly to nominate the structure to the National Register of Historic Places (1998). In 2000 the Society received a Historic Preservation Fund (HPF) grant from the National Park Service and administered by the IDNR's Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. The grant funded the repair of the main scissor truss which had slipped from its pocket on the back stage wall and come to rest on the top of the proscenium — a stage construction never intended as a load-bearing wall! With the truss jacked back into position, steel plates were put in place transferring the load to the masonry wall forming a permanent repair.
Although the opera house officially closed in 1914, it was used occasionally for graduation ceremonies and performances of the Delphi Dramatic Club. Shipping crates, store displays, seasonal decorations, and off-season merchandise were among the items to be found there. The clothing store owned by Julius and Julius also used the large room as a cabinet-making shop for window and store displays. As the decades passed, the deterioration of the third-floor opera house became more and more noticeable. Leaks in the roof dissolved portions of the plaster ceiling and decorative medallions and also weakened floor boards. Pigeons discovered broken windows and made the balcony railing their roost leaving droppings everywhere.
A major cleanup was needed and young hands and backs led the way. Board member Carol Dickman's sons Zach and Ben spent many hours sorting through the clutter separating artifacts from debris. Fifty folding theater seats were found and carried up to the opera house and by 2005, the opera house was ready for discovery.
During the 2005 Old Settlers' Celebration in Delphi, the Society decided to open the opera house to festival attendees. The Tonsil Klackers — a barbershop quartet from Lafayette — gave four 20-minute shows to 50 people at a time. The crowds were lined up on the sidewalk to climb the very steep steps to the third floor. These were the first performances in the opera house since it had closed ninety years earlier. The reception from those attending encouraged the Society to move forward with planning the restoration of the theater.
In 2006, a structural analysis was completed by KJG Architecture and Engineering to determine whether the bones of the facility were sound enough to warrant the major investments that would be needed. The facility needed a new roof and would require the addition of steel supports to meet current load-bearing requirements, but the building was in sound shape otherwise.
Utilizing a second Historic Preservation Fund grant, the Society began restoring the facade of the opera house building in 2007. Windows were restored maintaining the original single pane glazing, a missing cornice was replaced, the exterior balcony rebuilt, the masonry tuck pointed, and historic awnings installed. The roof was replaced in 2010.
A decorative arts analysis was completed in 2009-10 funded by the Jeffris Family Foundation and a generous grant from the North Central Health Services administered by Tippecanoe Arts Federation. More than thirty wall and ceiling papers were sampled and cataloged during the analysis along with decorative paint elements in the theater and entryway. As plans evolved for the restoration of the Delphi Opera House, several of the key wallpapers would be faithfully reproduced for reinstallation in the grand hall. Faux bois paneling, window frames, and trim would be redone as well. The result--stunning!