Philipsburg’s Opera House Theatre

Did you know that Philipsburg is home to the oldest operating theater in the state of Montana? Today, the theater is known as the Philipsburg Opera House Theatre, but it opened in 1891 as the McDonald Opera House.


The historic theater was built by upstanding businessman Angus A. McDonald alongside his wife JoAnna. Identifying a need for entertainment in the bustling mining community, the couple built a two-story theater complete with a granite foundation, full sod basement, dressing rooms, plumbing and a high loft above the stage for the scenic backdrops. Around the turn of the 20th century, a set of six stunning backdrops were hand painted by Montana artist Edgar S. Paxton for the theater. Paxton was originally from Buffalo, New York but had made his way out west, settling in Deer Lodge, Montana with his wife and son.

The auditorium featured a large stage and ornate boxes allowing them to host large audiences and a variety of events from live theater and vaudeville to magicians (there’s even a trap door remaining on stage) and boxing matches. According to performers, the acoustics in the theater are unmatched creating a wonderful experience for both the live actors and the attendees.

Philipsburg Theatre Auditorium

Over its 130+ year run, you can imagine the theater has seen some changes. One of the largest hit in the 1930s with the growing popularity of the moving picture. In 1919 the theater had been purchased by Frank Horrigan who renamed it “The Granada.” With the growing popularity of moving pictures, many theaters around the country were being modified to accommodate film. It was during the 1930s that film walked into the limelight and the Granada would operate as a movie theater into the late 20th century. With the conversion of the theater, they no longer needed the hand painted backdrops and sold off the six Paxton paintings. These backdrops would change hands a number of times, however in 1998 the Opera House was able to re-acquire five of those original backdrops which remain in their possession today.

In the 1980s, hardship overtook the theater and pianist Andrew Crow stepped in, purchasing the historic building to save it from demolition.

Philipsburg Theater Exterior

In 1998 Tim and Claudette Dringle purchased the theater from Crow and operated it through 2019. The Dringles put incredible love into the theater, working to restore it to its former glory and re-establish live theater in the community. Since bringing back live theater, the Opera House has gained a loyal following with their summertime productions and a trip to the theater has become a quintessential piece of any trip to Philipsburg, Montana.

In 2019, under owners Michael and Barbara McDowell, a nonprofit organization called “Philipsburg Playhouse Productions” was established to operate the theater. Today, you will find a wide variety of events including movie screenings, live theater, concerts and special events. The board is working tirelessly to provide visitors and locals with an incredible experience. Over the last four years, they have painted, installed new lights, updated the sound system and refurbished the loft as an incredible event space complete with a bar.

Philipsburg Theatre Bar

As you may well know, Southwest Montana has its fair share of paranormal sightings. The Philipsburg Opera House itself has had countless reports and become a sought-after location for paranormal investigators. Staff and visitors to the historic theater have reported cold spots, hair pulling, the feeling of strange presences, disembodied footsteps, a phantom face, and even the smell of cigars. If you are interested in more information, get in touch with the Bozeman Paranormal Society.

Philpsburg Theater

To book a tour of the Philipsburg Theater, visit their website or give them a call at (406) 859-0013.

Montana’s oldest operating theater is well worth a visit and you won’t regret adding this slice of history to your Southwest Montana adventure!


While you’re in Philipsburg make sure you take time to explore this charming community and everything it has to offer! Philipsburg, Montana is a small community with endless character. With a population of under 1,000, Philipsburg maintains the Montana charm and exemplifies the true Montana lifestyle. What does that mean? Philipsburg is a town of hard-working folks, who love the place they live and are excited to welcome visitors to the area. The area is best known for the rich deposit of Sapphires but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that the sapphires just scratch the surface of what can be found in Philipsburg!

Philipsburg, Montana - Broadway Street

While you are in town, add a few of our favorites to your itinerary!

  • The Sweet Palace – no trip is complete without a stop by the Sweet Palace! This candy store brings us back in time with a chocolate counter, taffy pull, and selection of homemade fudge. Make sure to plan accordingly though, The Sweet Palace is not open on Saturdays!
  • The Philipsburg Brewing Company serves up delicious craft beer year-round and has a second location that is open during the summer and often used as an event and live music venue!
  • Winninghoff Park holds events and concerts in the park during the summer months and during the winter, this park transforms into a winter wonderland with the community ice rink!
  • Gem Mining – try your hand at gem mining at either Gem Mountain or Montana Gems! Both of these stores in addition to the Sapphire Gallery sell Montana Sapphire Jewelry as the perfect keepsake from your travels. During the summer you can even visit Gem Mountain’s actual mine!
  • Dining – There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Philipsburg, including Bricks Pub, Doe Brothers, Kiko’s Mexican, Silver Mill, Friday Night Pizza, the Sushi Shack, and Sherry’s Homestyle Bakery.
  • Ice Cream – Looking for a little ice cream to stroll with along Broadway? The Philipsburg Creamery is the place to go!
  • As you meander through town, start along Broadway Street where you will find a variety of retailers and coffee shops to stroll through.
  • Recreation – Georgetown Lake, Discovery Ski Area (and Bike Park during the summer months), Discovery Basin and Echo Lake Nordic Ski Trails, Rock Creek and Flint Creek offer some of the best trout fishing in the state!

We can’t wait to see you in Philipsburg!