Nov. 28: Twin City Drive-in, Bristol TN

Twin City Drive-In marquee

Photo from the Twin City Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 332 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. My drive was less than an hour and a half, heading down from the Central Drive-In Theatre, a few miles west of Norton VA, to the Twin City Drive-in just over the border in Bristol TN.

The Twin City was built in 1949 by Raymond Warden and Bo Diggs. In 1956, Diggs took it over, and in 1974 he sold it to his nephew Danny Warden. Danny and his wife Ellen Warden still own the place.

The Wardens have endured two crises. A tornado ripped off two-thirds of the original screen tower on Oct. 1, 1977, but the Wardens erected a replacement before the next weekend’s movies.

The second crisis arrived more slowly and I’m not exactly sure how it worked out. In August 2013, the Wardens were raising the alarm that they might have to sell the Twin City because of the need to switch to digital projection. “We’re going to show through this year, and unless something changes, that might be it,” Danny told the Johnson City Press. “You never know, though, we’ve had a couple of people who say they might be interested in buying it. If someone buys it and switches to digital, then it will stay open.”

Ellen had a slightly different perspective a couple of weeks later, quoted in the Bristol Herald Courier. “The digital conversion is something we can afford and we are blessed to be in that position because of the good business decision we have made over the years,” she said. “People have been buzzing around Facebook that they are scared we are going to close. As long as we can get those 35 mm prints, we’ll keep showing movies for those who show up. But with a digital projector, I don’t think it will be if, but when.”

As I said, I’m not sure exactly what happened, but by early 2014 the Twin City had its digital projector, and the Wardens still appear to be around. The Bristol Raceway is less than a mile away, and during race weeks the drive-in becomes a campground. This August, Ellen told WCYB, Bristol’s News Leader, “When we first started this in ’95 we filled up and turned them away,” but 2017 had been a disappointment.

I just missed the last weekend of the season; this place stayed open later than I had expected. I’m still looking for one more movie to reach my goal of 200.

Miles Today / Total: 63 / 38268 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 199

Nearby Restaurant: With the drive-in closed, I went looking for an old-fashioned diner and wound up at the Old Lighthouse Diner. It offers full-pound hamburgers, which were a bit much even for me. I picked a late breakfast instead, the Captain’s Breakfast with eggs, bacon, home fries, a griddle cake and coffee. Griddle cakes rule!

Where I Virtually Stayed: The top-rated hotel in town is the Fairfield Inn, so I chose it over the Hampton Inn. My room at the Fairfield had something that this Hampton didn’t – a mini-fridge. Plus there were cookies and coffee waiting for me at check-in and a nice breakfast in the morning featuring omelettes and bacon. It was one of the nicest Fairfields I’ve visited so far.

Only in Bristol: Bristol is home to a 70-foot long, three-story Grand Guitar. As Roadside America explained, Joe Morrell built it as a gateway between the interstate and his hometown of Bristol, the self-proclaimed “Birthplace of Country Music.” It opened in May 1983, it opened to the public and housed, among many other things, Morrell’s personal collection of hundreds of musical instruments. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014.

Next stop: Skyview Drive-In, Carmichaels PA.

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