By Allison Brophy Champion
CULPEPER — The contents of the historic Culpeper State Theatre will have a new home at the Marty Stuart Congress of Country Music, a museum complex under development in the Grammy Award winning artist's hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi.
"We're honored to have it, and it's very evident that whoever picked out all the features had a lot of integrity and a lot of taste, so we're going to try and live up to that once we get it in place down in Mississippi," Stuart said Wednesday.
He heard about the auction of the furnishings through Culpeper resident Rob Stone, whose wife used to be manager of the circa-1938 State Theatre located on Main Street. The theater closed in 2016 due to lack of funds to keep it open following a $13 million renovation and expansion three years earlier.
Two months ago, Marcus Silva, president of The Villagio Hospitality Group in Manassas, purchased the State Theatre building at a foreclosure auction for $726,000 with reported plans to turn it into a dining and entertainment venue.
Through a separate online auction, Stuart purchased everything inside the Culpeper theater, including its sound system and lighting, stage curtains, rigging and fly tower, office and green room furniture and the 500 theater seats that were donated by the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. However, the vintage and ornate Bosendorfer piano sold separately.
Stuart's board at the Congress of Country Music approved the $287,500 purchase of the State Theatre equipment that will one day outfit the circa-1920s Ellis Theater when the museum project opens.
"The comment came down from up here let's just try to buy the entire contents of the theater instead of trying to piecemeal it. It would be shame after so much has gone into it to see it just fly away in all directions," Stuart said. "I saw that there were a lot of hopes and dreams that didn't quite come true in Culpeper and I love Culpeper ... and almost felt a responsibility as I moved this thing to Mississippi to carry on what was started at the State Theatre."
Stuart performed a sold-out show at the State Theater in 2015 as part of his close association with the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation in Culpeper. A poster with his picture advertising the show lay forgotten on a table in the green room backstage as Stone talked Wednesday about the sale of the theater's contents.
"What we've been saying around here is we're kind of trying to make some lemonade of the situation," he said, noting the Ellis Theater is about the same size as the State Theatre. "It was too perfect. Marty Stuart will tell you, it's a God thing and I'm a believer, so I'm not going to disagree. There is some sort of symmetry, karma to it, something rising from the ashes."
The first truckload of materials from Culpeper headed south Tuesday, with additional shipments expected every day through Friday, Stone said. The State Theatre contents will be stored in a renovated warehouse on the site of what will become the Congress of Country Music, housing Stuart's vast collection of country music memorabilia. The museum will be built on the block surrounding and incorporating the Ellis Theater.
Stuart, who is getting ready to go on tour with Chris Stapleton, said he was optimistic his museum would open in three years, and that the fundraising phase is now in full swing.
Stone said he was encouraged to hear the State Theatre would remain an entertainment venue in some form under its new ownership. Reports indicate the Culpeper site could be inspired by The Hamilton, a live music venue and restaurant in Washington, D.C.
The new owner of the State Theatre isn't ready to go public with specific plans yet, said Culpeper Economic Development Director Paige Read.
"The community will not be disappointed," Read said of what's next for the State Theatre. "It's going to be awesome. We just have to be patient."