THE FIRST record of public amusement in Kentucky, was an advertisement of May 31, 1797, in the Kentucky Gazette, a Lexington paper. It announced that "a room for exhibition purposes" had been erected adjoining Coleman's Tavern for "an exhibition of tumbling, balancing on slack wire, slack rope walking and dancing. Admission to pit, 2 shillings, to gallery, 2 shillings, 2 pence. Doors open at sunset, performance beginning at dark."
Not until January 1, 1802, however, did theater items begin to appear in the Gazette, nor was the location of the building, corner of Spring and Vine Streets, given until June 25, 1811. The owner was Luke Usher, who was probably the first theatrical manager in central Kentucky; he also controlled houses at Frankfort and Louisville and sent his actors from one town to the other, as business justified. Noble Luke Usher, nephew of the theater owner and a Shakespearean actor of some standing, joined the company in 1812 with his wife, Harriet L'Estrange, an actress of unusual attainments and charm. Both were from the south of Ireland and had been members of a theatrical company which included the parents of Edgar Allan Poe. It may be that Poe's story, "Fall of the House of Usher," was based on some tradition of this family.
The theater of Kentucky was of little consequence until the coming of the Drake family and their company. The story opens in Albany, New York. In 1814 Noble Luke Usher arrived at the Albany Theater to recruit actors for his houses in Kentucky, then regarded as "the Far West." The adventure appealed to Samuel Drake, stage manager; he agreed to get a company together and start for Kentucky the following spring. But the task was difficult, for experienced actors hesitated to make the hazardous journey into "the unknown." However, members of Drake's own family, all actors, and young N. M. Ludlow, who had recently joined the company to play small parts, were eager for the adventure.