Sept. 25: Fairlee Motel & Drive-in Theater, Fairlee VT

It’s Day 268 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Even though most of my travel was on I-89, it took almost two hours to drive 83 miles from Colchester VT to the Fairlee Motel & Drive-in Theater in Fairlee VT of course.

The Fairlee opened in 1950 as the Holiday Park, built and owned by Reginald and Terri Drowns. In 1960, they added six motel rooms and renamed it the Hi Way 5. It was the first time anyone had combined a drive-in with a motel.

Before I continue, I must refer you to a superb article in the August 2015 issue of Southwest: The Magazine. It’s what I would write about the Fairlee if I gave myself more space, and if I were a better writer. However, that article and one by blogger Larry Coffin (who says he was present at opening night) are the only mentions of “Drowns”; directories of the period refer to the owner as Reginald Drown or Brown.

In 1966, the Drowns added another block of six motel rooms. An old NBC News article said there used to be a washing machine next to the projectors, where they presumably did laundry between reel changes.

By the mid-80s, something happened because in 1987 the Hi Way 5 “had fallen into neglect after being shuttered for a few years.” That’s when Ray and Elaine Herb revived the motel and drive-in, and it was also probably when it was renamed the Fairlee, since a 1992 newspaper roundup included it that way.

Peter and Erika Trapp bought the Fairlee in 2003. (You can check out how it looked on DocRebuild.) He upgraded the projector with a platter system and added FM sound, although they also kept the in-car speakers. When they needed to upgrade to digital a decade later, a successful Kickstarter campaign brought in enough money for a down payment on the new projector, and the Fairlee kept on running. Along the way, they even got the attention of the BBC and the Denver Post.

The Trapps have a cattle farm across the river in New Hampshire, and the burgers at the Fairlee are made from that beef. It’s too bad that they’re closed for the season, especially since the high temperature was 90 degrees on the day I arrived.

The YouTube video of the day is a simple 360-degree view of what the Fairlee looked like before a show in 2008. I love seeing all those speakers!

Miles Today / Total: 83 / 31414 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 169

Nearby Restaurant: I’ve sure been finding a lot of good old diners in New England, and the Fairlee Diner is another good example. I made it in time for breakfast, where I took advantage of huge blueberry pancakes with true Vermont maple syrup.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Well of course I had to stay at the Fairlee Motel overlooking the drive-in. My room was clean and had the full set of modern amenities. I could see the speaker in the wall, much like the times I’ve stayed at the Movie Manor in Monte Vista CO, and I was a little sad that there was no movie to watch this night.

Only in Fairlee: Just west of Fairlee at the Post Mills Airport in the town of Thetford is Vermontasaurus, a 25-foot-tall, 122-foot-long folk art representation of a dinosaur. According to Wikipedia, retired teacher Brian Boland built the original in 2010. Part of it collapsed in October 2011 but was rebuilt as a “baby Vermontasaurus” the following year. In 2017, Boland unveiled an “adolescent” version at the Orford-Fairlee Fourth of July Parade.

Next stop: Bethel Drive-In, Bethel VT.