It’s Day 328 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. After a few days of much longer drives, the two hours it took for me to go from the Jesup Twin Drive-In Theatre in Jesup GA of course to the Highway 21 Drive In in Beaufort SC seemed like a trip across the street.
This is another one of those drive-ins with a history that’s kind of fuzzy. Reports say that it opened in 1978, very late for a first-generation drive-in, and the 1980-82 International Motion Picture Almanacs listed it the as Plaza 21 Drive-in, owned by P. Trask. (There’s a Yelp page that still calls it the Plaza 21. And Google Maps calls the highway in front of the drive-in the Trask Parkway. Hmm.)
For its 1984-88 editions, the IMPAs changed the name to the Hiway 21, owned by J. Warren. From those clues, and those are the only ones I could find, I’d guess that this Warren bought the place not that long after it opened and changed its name.
The Island News wrote that the Highway 21 closed in 2002. The known history of the drive-in begins in 2003 when Bonnie and Joe Barth bought it and reopened it. “I said, ‘But we don’t know anything about it,’ and Joe said, ‘It’ll be fun,’ ” Bonnie told The Post and Courier of Charleston. They both work flooring jobs by day and run the drive-in at night.
The Beaufort Gazette wrote in 2012 about the Barths’ scramble to save enough money to convert to digital projection. “Come hell or high water, we’re staying,” Joe said. They were looking community support to sponsor their military appreciation nights, where the film rental fees for each free admission were coming out of the Highway 21’s annual profit.
An article last year in The Post and Courier began with the process of changing the letters on the old-style marquee. The article said that the 2012 dilemma had been solved when Bonnie put her retirement savings toward the $150,000 digital upgrade. “When the Barths reopened the theater, they screened old movies and second-run flicks — nothing new,” it said. “Now the newest movies arrive on memory sticks and are downloaded onto a computer before being projected onto two screens.” One of those screens had been damaged by Hurricane Matthew in October 2015 and since repaired.
“You know what, it probably hasn’t been a great investment,” Joe said. “We’ve put more money into it than I thought we’d have to. … but for the community it’s been a great thing. We bring families together.”
I had a choice of two unusual YouTube videos to embed this day. The one I chose is an amazing Goofus and Gallant-style short about drive-in etiquette, uploaded by the Highway 21 itself. The one you should also watch is an all-too-brief aerial view of the drive-in done the pre-drone way, from an aircraft.
Miles Today / Total: 102 / 37780 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Coco / 197
Nearby Restaurant: For some great food at a decent price, I headed over to Sgt. White’s Diner. It’s dished up cafeteria style, which means there was less wait for me to start eating juicy fried pork chops, cornbread, green beans, and pecan pie. What a great way to spend lunch!
Where I Virtually Stayed: There are nice hotels in Beaufort and inexpensive hotels in Beaufort. The best combination of those two might be the Sleep Inn. My clean, comfortable room had all the modern amenities, and the free breakfast included waffles and all those continental supplies to start me on another day’s drive.
Only in Beaufort: When you think about it, you know they had to make them somewhere, Beaufort is home to the Kazoobie Kazoo Factory and Museum. For just $5, you get the full factory tour plus the opportunity to assemble your own kazoo. The museum displays kazoos throughout history from Thaddeus Von Clegg’s 1840 workshop to contemporary electric kazoos.
Next stop: Monetta Drive In Theatre, Monetta SC.