Any drive through downtown Winamac in Pulaski County will bring you up close and personal with a historic landmark. The Vurpillat Opera House has been a staple of this community since it first opened in 1883. Throughout its long history, the Vurpillat hosted many 19th-century celebrities such as James Whitcomb Riley and Eli Perkins as well as being used as a drug store, flower shop, and roller skating rink.
Marked as an Indiana Historic Landmark in 2001, today the Vurpillat continues to support the residents of Pulaski County due to the dedication of the Pulaski County Historical Society and the Opera House’s current owners.
“History is important,” said Kathi Thompson, vice president of the Pulaski County Historical Society. “My mother and my stepfather were involved in the Historical Society. When I moved home after 30 years, it was just natural for me to become involved in the organization.”
“120 years ago, people traveled for days to come to the Vurpillat Opera House,” Jennifer Kasten, the owner of the Vurpillat said.
Recognizing the treasure that they had in their community, the Historical Society took ownership of the Vurpillat Opera House after a generous donation from a local resident.
“Stewart Gast gifted the Vurpillat Opera House to the Historical Society in 2000,” Thompson said. “The Historical Society went through the process of applying for grants and receiving funds to renovate the building so that it could once again be a viable part of the community.”
Through these funds, the Pulaski County Historical Society was able to renovate the exterior of the existing structure, leaving the interior ready for renovation and its current owners.
“This is something we're really proud of,” Kasten said. “I love old history, and it's probably the oldest, most recognizable building in Pulaski County. To be able to make it useful and have people in and out of it is amazing.”
Today, the first floor of the Vurpillat Opera House is used as a vibrant event space. Holding a variety of events and celebrations, the opera house is once again a robust part of the Pulaski County community.
“It was just a huge investment,” Kasten said. “It was just the right time, and so we bought it and remodeled it. Our first party was in December of 2020, but then COVID shut down the Christmas parties again, so it was really in late spring of 2021 that we started using it for events.”
“Pretty much every Saturday, there is an event at the Vurpillat Opera House,” Kasten continued. “We do all kinds of business meetings. We do Christmas parties. We do weddings, showers, birthday parties, and retirement parties.”
Today, the Vurpillat Opera House as an event space is fulfilling the ultimate goal of the Pulaski County Historical Society.
“The Historical Society hopes that the historic nature of any town can be preserved as long as that nature still suits the purpose of moving forward,” Thompson said. “Winamac was experiencing a great deal of growth when this building was built. it is an important piece of history. The Vurpillat Opera House was one of the buildings that contributed to Winamac becoming a vibrant little town.”
Owners Mike and Jenny Kasten hope to continue restoring and supporting both the Vurpillat and their hometown.
“It’s nice to have a place to have meetings outside of our own spaces,” Jenny Kasten said. “That means a lot. It's really a nice place for the community. My hope is that, one day, we can look into restoring the top two floors of the Vurpillat and see if there's any possibility of restoring it into some kind of concert venue,”
To reserve event space at the Vurpillat Opera House, contact Jenny Kasten at (574) 242-0493.