Oct. 11: Valley Brook Drive In, Lyons Falls NY

Black and white photo of the screen with streaked clouds behind it

Photo from the Valley Brook Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 284 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I drove west through the wilderness, or maybe wilderness-es since the Silver Lake and West Canada Lake Wildernesses were in the neighborhood. The result was a three-hour trip from Queensbury NY to the Valley Brook Drive In, a few miles north of Lyons Falls NY.

The history of the Valley Brook could make a pretty good movie, though most of it is based on a simple, thorough online family tree. The story starts with Michael Matuszczak, who with his wife Bessie owned and operated a dairy farm near Martinsburg. (Michael’s youngest brother, Walter Matuszczak, was an All-American quarterback for Cornell and rates his own Wikipedia page. But I digress.) Michael’s youngest son, Robert Matuszczak, helped on the family farm until he was stricken with polio in 1950 at the age of 22.

In my imagined movie, the next year or two is crucial. The young man’s father, then in his early 50s, and his mother in her mid 40s, learned over the following months that Robert wasn’t going to be able to work on the farm as he had. The two of them together designed and built the Valley Brook Drive-In, which opened in 1952. Robert ran the place for the next couple of decades. In 1974, “due to health reasons,” Robert retired to Florida, where he lived another 15 years.

It appears that by 1974, possibly earlier, Michael and Bessie operated the drive-in in Robert’s absence. Michael died just before the 1987 season, and Bessie was said to have continued to operated the Valley Brook until 1990 before passing it on to her daughter Dorothy Dekin and her family.

An article in The Journal of Ogdensburg flashed back to another movie-worthy scene. Dorothy’s son Michael Dekin had just graduated from high school in 1983 when his grandparents called him. Though it was late June, the drive-in was still closed. His grandparents asked if he would consider learning how to run the cameras and open for the season. Dekin took a crash course shadowing Don Mulligan at the Marcy Drive-In. (Obviously, the movie would include a training montage here.) The Valley Brook reopened in mid-July.

Michael’s sister, Bernice Noody, and his mom helped run the business. Noody died in 2006, and Mom isn’t involved in the current operation of the Valley Brook. Michael Dekin, very young to be a 34-year drive-in veteran, remains the owner even now.

After postponing the digital conversion in 2013, as recounted by the Watertown Daily Times, Dekin reluctantly went digital in July 2014. The Valley Brook benefitted from a grant from the Snow Belt Housing Co., a non-profit that usually helps families find housing. “I think it’s part of our culture, isn’t it?” Snow Belt executive director Cheryl L. Shenkle-O’Neill told the Daily Times. “You grow up going to the drive-in, and it’s an experience you want to have for your children or grandchildren. There are few drive-in theaters around, and it’s a way to promote some entertainment that’s a part of the history of the community.” Sounds like an uplifting finish to this movie as the Valley Brook rolls along.

The drive-in’s last show this year was on Labor Day weekend, so it was another movie-less night for me. Maybe that’s why I invented this one.

Miles Today / Total: 134 / 32893 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 177

Nearby Restaurant: Maybe 1000 feet up the street on Burdick Crossing Road is the River Valley Inn, a surprisingly nice dinner-only restaurant that feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere. I started with a shrimp cocktail and followed it with a pork prime rib. Throw in salad, rolls, a potato, and some veggies, and I was stuffed for the night.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The nicest place in Lyons Falls might be The Edge Hotel. It seemed like there was wood paneling on every surface in the common areas, giving it a cozy atmosphere. There’s also an adjacent restaurant and bar that’s just as woody. My king room was simple, clean, and comfortable, with all the modern amenities. Continental breakfast is included, and the price was very reasonable. Neat!

Only in Lyons Falls: Less than a mile west from the Valley Brook is a tiny, homemade Russian Orthodox Church. The Watertown Daily Times wrote that it’s the work of Charles “Ed” Scherneck, a former Lowville Academy art teacher and convert to Russian Orthodox. When he died in 2003, his funeral was held in the church he built.

Next stop: 56 Auto Drive-in Theater, Massena NY.

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