Sept. 26: Bethel Drive-In, Bethel VT

It’s Day 269 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Driving through twisty mountain roads, I averaged less than 40 mph as I went from the Fairlee Motel & Drive-in Theater in Fairlee VT of course to the Bethel Drive-In in Bethel VT of course.

The Bethel opened in 1954 as the Randall Drive-In, owned by Harry Hudson. Then as now, it was a small drive-in even by small-town standards with room for just 150 cars. Beginning in 1982, my reference books list the owner as “Ostenberg”, who probably bought the place in the 1970s.

A May 2006 article in The Herald of Randolph VT said Scott Corse bought the Randall “11 years ago”. His crew of teenagers were moving away, so he was looking for someone to operate the drive-in. Corse rented it to Larry and Laurie Girard later in 2006 (through at least 2008), and to Lorena Miller and family in 2012.

Adam Gerhard and Regina Franz leased the Randall from Corse in 2013. Through community appeals including a Kickstarter, which completed in June 2014, they raised enough money for a down payment on a digital projector. That season continued uneventfully, then the couple left, taking the projector with them to a drive-in in New York. They said that Corse had surprised them by not renewing their lease, but according to The Herald, Corse had told them in February 2014 that he did not want them back in 2015.

Some donors were unhappy that their contributions didn’t go towards a long-term solution for their local drive-in. That led to the civil suit filed by the state of Vermont “for making deceptive representations in connection with a fundraiser.” The defendants have maintained their innocence, saying the suit includes erroneous, unsubstantiated by any evidence, and in many cases outright false statements.

David and Tammy Tomaszewski stepped up in 2015 to take over the drive-in, renaming it the Bethel. Corse signed a “yearly renewable lease” with the Tomaszewskis, who also run the local indoor theater. They kept the Bethel going with the last movies available on 35mm film, replaced the original screen before the 2016 season, and installed another digital projector this year. There’s a great interview all about it in the Valley News.

The Bethel’s last movies of this season were on Labor Day Weekend, leaving me in the dark on this Tuesday night in late September. At least I can expect to find this drive-in alive again next spring.

The YouTube video of the day is someone’s capture of the report by WVNY (Burlington’s News Leader) about the 2014 Kickstarter campaign. You can see a clearer version on that Kickstarter page, though the bits of film in the lower corners of this video are a nice touch.

Miles Today / Total: 45 / 31459 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 169

Nearby Restaurant: The Bethel Village Sandwich Shop in the heart of town is a great place for breakfast or lunch. Since there’s that “sandwich” in the name, I figured they had to be good. I ordered the Gilead, which might have been a simple ham and swiss before adding apple maple chutney sauce. That and plenty of coffee made a good sandwich great.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The closest hotel to the Bethel is the Maple Leaf Inn in Barnard. You know the kind of Victorian-era bed and breakfast set in the middle of Vermont woods, the kind you see in postcards? This is that B&B. My room didn’t have a fridge, but it did have a wood-burning fireplace, which is much better. Breakfast was wonderful with freshly baked scones, pumpkin pancakes with true maple syrup, and everything else you would expect from that postcard.

Only in Bethel: Just east of Bethel in South Royalton is a monument to the birthplace of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. As Roadside America reports, Smith was born on the town line between Sharon and Royalton on December 23, 1805. The LDS Church owns 350 acres of landscaped forest and hilltop leading up to a memorial 52-foot-high granite pillar. Smith lived in Vermont until he was ten years old.

Next stop: Four Brothers Drive In, Amenia NY.