It’s Day 311 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I-64 took me most of the way of my hour and a half drive from Hull’s Drive In in Lexington VA to the Meadow Bridge Drive-In in Meadow Bridge WV of course.
This tiny drive-in, which never held more than 180 cars, opened on July 4, 1953 as the N & R Drive-In Theatre, owned by Ned Garten. Details about its early days are very sketchy, and the part I find most curious is the number of times Garten tried to sell it. An ad in The Raleigh Register in July 1954 listed the “new drive-in theatre” for sale, and a similar ad appeared in September 1956. The “For Sale ads” got larger and more serious in June 1958, as Garten wrote that he was moving to Florida for his health and offered the N & R for $15,000, less than the cost of the projector. That might have been when the sale finally happened; the following year, one “Roger Ned Garten” of Ft. Pierce FL attended the family reunion.
The majority of what I could find about the drive-in came from a single lengthy article in The Register-Herald in 2013. That article said that after Garten, “the Thomas Theaters company ran it. Then one of the shareholders purchased the location outright.”
I turned to my shelf of International Motion Picture Almanacs to see how their information lined up. The IMPAs had Garten through 1959, then the drive-in was off the lists until 1978. By then it was listed as the Meadowbridge (sic) and owned by B. Hartley. In the 1980-82 editions, the owner was L. Thomas, which must be that Thomas Theaters that the newspaper mentioned. In 1984, the IMPA showed J. Boyd as the owner.
Now we pick up the newspaper’s narrative. “Word on the street was that the theater was going to turn X-rated because its screen faced away from the road. That’s when (current owner Howard) McClanahan stepped in and decided to make an offer.”
In fact, the Meadow Bridge had already shown a fair number of X-rated movies, a fact hinted at in the article and verified by 1973-74 ads in The Raleigh Register. Anyway, McClanahan was listed as the owner in the 1986 IMPA.
McClanahan had worked at the Meadow Bridge (or was it the N & R?) when he was young, and he maintained a day job until 2001. Since his retirement, he’s been able to devote his attention to his little drive-in. “I don’t know what I’d do if we didn’t have this place,” he told The Register-Herald. “Plus, I have this problem — when I buy something, I never get rid of it.”
The YouTube video of the day comes from WVNS, Lewisburg’s News Leader. It was shot in 2013 during the Project Honda contest to win a new digital projector for several drive-ins. The Meadow Bridge already had its digital projector, but was trying to win anyway? I guess it could have passed it along to a neighbor.
At any rate, the drive-in closed for the season several weeks ago. It’s another dark night for me.
Miles Today / Total: 105 / 35158 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 188
Nearby Restaurant: The best place to eat in Meadow Bridge is almost certainly Carol’s Restaurant, home of the local legend, Carol’s hot dogs. They’re grilled and covered in some homemade concoction of chili and other stuff. There’s also all the coffee you can drink and plenty of other standard fare, but what’s the point of typical food? For dessert, the chocolate cake was an excellent companion to one more cup of Joe.
Where I Virtually Stayed: One of these days, I feel like saying that there were no hotels anywhere near the drive-in, so I slept in my car. Not this time, not quite. There was a pretty good one, the Sleep Inn in Beaver, less than a half hour away. My clean, comfortable room had all the modern amenities, and breakfast even had hot sausage and biscuits. For a solid stay like that, the price was amazing.
Only in Meadow Bridge: Just up I-64 in Sam Black Church, there’s a historical marker for the Greenbrier Ghost. It reads, “Interred in nearby cemetery is Zona Heaster Shue. Her death in 1897 was presumed natural until her spirit appeared to her mother to describe how she was killed by her husband Edward. Autopsy on the exhumed body verified the apparition’s account. Edward, found guilty of murder, was sentenced to the state prison. Only known case in which testimony from a ghost helped convict a murderer.”
Next stop: Pipestem Drive-In, Speedway WV.