Oct. 5: Pleasant Valley Drive-in, Barkhamsted CT

It’s Day 278 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Even though the majority of my drive was on I-91, it took almost two hours to drive the 90 miles from the Northfield Drive-In Theatre, just barely across the Massachusetts border in Hinsdale NH, to the Pleasant Valley Drive-in in Barkhamsted CT.

This is a place, literally a stone’s throw from the Farmington River across the highway, with quite a history. It opened in 1947 under a different name. I’m pretty sure it was the Rogers Corner, because that’s what Billboard magazine called it when it wrote about it in 1949. That’s when “Vincent J. Youmatz, part-owner, founder, and former president of the theater” sued the corporation that owned it. But the name of that corporation was the Peoples Forest Drive-In Theater Corporation, and some people, including the current owner, believe that it opened as the People’s Drive-In.

Don Heilbron bought the drive-in from the original owners in the 1970s. Around that time, according to The New York Times, “it survived by showing what the multiplexes couldn’t: X-rated movies.” At that point, everyone agrees that it was called the Rogers Corner.

In 1987, Brady and Sally Miller bought the Rogers Corner, switched to family movies, and changed the drive-in’s name to Pleasant Valley to help it publicly break from its X-rated past. “It took Brady three years before people started realizing it was a family venue again,” wrote Donna McGrane, who bought it from the Millers in 1996. (She was gracious enough to share the drive-in’s history with me.)

From the time McGrane took over, the Pleasant Valley’s history is pretty well documented. In that Times article from 2008, she said, “My mother used to run the ticket booth and my dad would work part time running the projector, so weekends they’d put us in pajamas and pack us into the station wagon, and that’s how we spent our summers. When the theater came up for sale 11 years ago I couldn’t let it go.”

More recently, the drive-in went through an amazing story of finding the money for the digital conversion before the 2014 season. Eloquently written by Entertainment Weekly, it tells how an 11th hour reprieve, in the form of a benefit auction organized by Torrington Preservation Trust member Travis Lipinski, surprisingly raised the cash for a down payment on the new projector.

The Pleasant Valley is open for another weekend this season, but not on this night, a Thursday. At least I know that it should be around for years to come.

The embedded video of the day is a little personal. Four years ago, I wrote about the Pleasant Valley and used this clip from WVIT, Connecticut’s News Leader. Then a week later, the video stopped working in my blog post. It’s working again (at least as I type this), so I’m giving it another try.

Miles Today / Total: 90 / 32533 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 174

Nearby Restaurant: The closest restaurant to Pleasant Valley appeared to be the Log House, so that’s where I went. Inside and out, the place was just as wooden as the name promises. They say this is a homestyle restaurant, though I don’t know how many serve such an excellent lobster bisque. I continued on to the roast turkey with stuffing and cranberry sauce, then finished with a slice of chocolate cake. Wonderful comfort food!

Where I Virtually Stayed: There aren’t any hotels near Pleasant Valley, so I drove a few miles to Avon and the Residence Inn there. My studio suite had a fully stocked kitchen and a fireplace. I could have lived here for weeks, which is the idea. The full breakfast buffet in the morning was one of the best free hotel breakfasts I’ve had this year. I was ready for another day.

Only in Barkhamsted: Every year, the Barkhamsted Historical Society reopens Squire’s Tavern for one night of food, drinks, games, and music “just like it was in the 1800’s.” This year, the date is October 21. If you want to see what the place is like when it’s quiet, you can take a virtual tour here.

Next stop: Hollywood Drive-In Theatre, Averill Park NY.

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