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Clockwise from top left: An ad from September 14, 1895, for the Grand Opera House and the minstrel show that was booked there. The March 27, 1896, headlines concerning the fire that destroyed the theater. Headlines from May 4, 1896, declare that the Grand Opera House will not be rebuilt. A sketch of Paul B. Perkins from the February 22, 1896, issue of The San Francisco Call.

While Perkins Water Works Manufacturing Co. was playing out its life as Crescent Iron Works, the original founder, Paul B. Perkins was still involved with his opera house.

In February 1889, Perkins, Charles Brooks and F. S. Hefferman formed a company and petitioned for the incorporation of the Perkins Grand Opera House Company. There were to be a total of 600 shares valued at $100 each, and Perkins would hold 525 of those shares.

It was March 5, 1889, before the certificate of incorporation for the opera house was issued by the Secretary of State.

In 1889, Perkins was listed as a member in the American Water-Works Association and his address was listed as Springfield.

He remained involved with supplying Springfield with its water through his Perkins Water Works Co. (not to be confused with his Perkins Water Works Manufacturing Co. that cast pipes, valves and fittings to used to build water systems), and was serving as its president in 1889.

The city directory for Springfield from 1890 lists him as living there and his occupation as manager of the Perkins Grand Opera House at 867 Boonville Ave.

Paul B. Perkins can be found in the 1880 census in Geneseo, Illinois, along with his wife, Agnes, and his daughters, Clara and Nellie, but he gets tricky to find after that. It could be that he traveled so much to install water systems and stayed away so long that he was missed by the census takers. Additionally, most of the 1890 census records were destroyed in a fire in Washington D.C. in 1921.

The city directory of Oakland, California, lists Paul B. Perkins, a mechanical engineer, residing there in 1895. The city directory of San Francisco, California, in 1896 lists Paul B. Perkins, who was the manager of a business that dealt in “pumps and engines,” living in that city.

An article in the San Francisco Call newspaper of Feb. 22, 1896, details the newly completed water works in the city of Santa Rosa, California. It states, “The pumping machinery, which was designed by contractor Perkins, and made to order in San Francisco, is a beautiful mechanism.”

It also says that the fire hydrants, “are simple in construction, yet handsome in appearance, and were manufactured here from designs made by Contractor Perkins.”

The article concluded with, “Contractor Perkins, who has had experience of 35 years in this kind of work, has built no less than 27 water systems in this and other states. The testimonials of confidence and esteem for this kind of work received by him in the past will fill a small volume.”

Eventually, there was a lawsuit filed by the city of Santa Rosa over the legal ownership of the water works that went to trial in December 1896. Paul B. Perkins was one of the defendants.

Apparently, the city contended that Perkins and his partner, having constructed the system with funds from city bonds, had no legal ownership to the water works and that the system belonged to the city. The court found in the city's favor.

In the 1900 census, Agnes J. Perkins shows up living in Chicago with one of her daughters and her daughter's husband. She gives her marital status as “widowed,’” but in those days women who were separated or divorced often listed themselves as such, partly because of the stigma attached to being separated or divorced at that time.

In the 1900 census, Paul B. Perkins was living in Los Angeles and listed as a machinist engineer, which was what he was trained for. He also is in the city directory of Los Angeles that year listed as a mechanical engineer.

That 1900 census states that he was married to Etta L. Perkins, who was 23 years younger. Their marriage took place in 1889, which would have been while Paul Perkins was still living in Springfield.

The Perkins Grand Opera House, perhaps the most notable structure of Paul B. Perkins’ legacy, was already in decline. F. S. Hefferman, the owner and manager since 1889, announced in May 1895 that he would be making $5,000 worth of improvements to the theater, including a new four-story front on the building. It was announced in September that “rebuilding of the Grand Opera House is completed.”

Perkins’ name had been removed from the theater by that time. Even the shows booked there were not what they once were. Ads in September revealed bookings for “Mr. Charles Elliot Niswonger, the Pre-Eminent Mind Reader,” and later that month for “Richards & Pringle's Famous Georgia Minstrels.”

Then in the latter part of March 1896, fire broke out in the rear of the basement of the opera house at 11:30 p.m. Firefighters arrived quickly, but by 1 a.m. it was apparent the structure was lost.

The article about the fire in the March 27 issue of the Springfield News-Leader stated, “The Perkins Grand Opera House was built in 1887 by P. B. Perkins, who for a time was considered a Napoleon of finance in this city. He dealt in real estate and made a fortune and lost it.”

Ironically, the fire most likely was fought with pressurized water from the water system constructed by Perkins. It wasn't enough, and so the flames destroyed Paul B. Perkins’ last connection with the MOzarks.

On Feb. 2, 1914, the Springfield Republican newspaper ran an article that mentioned Perkins. Curiously, for a man that was once apparently highly-regarded and talked about as a possible candidate for mayor, Perkins was referred to as follows: “In 1885, P. B. Perkins would have been considered the ‘Rufus Wallingford’ of Springfield had that fictitious character been created at that time.”

Rufus Wallingford was a confidence man created by author George Randolph Chester and who appeared in a series of stories in the Saturday Evening Post in 1907. The stories were collected into a book in 1908 entitled, “Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford: A Cheerful Account of the Rise and Fall of an American Business Buccaneer.”

That comparison seems to indicate that the reputation of Paul B. Perkins, who brought water to many of the larger towns in the MOzarks, Missouri and other states, was perhaps no longer as shiny as it once had been.

But tarnished or not, he helped the city of Springfield and many other such cities grow and prosper through the water systems he constructed.


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