It’s Day 277 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. With all the twisty, forested roads, it took me almost an hour and a half to drive from Leicester MA to the Northfield Drive-In Theatre, just barely across the border in Hinsdale NH.
The Northfield, the oldest New Hampshire drive-in that’s still active, was built in 1948 by Carl Nilman. According to Digital Commonwealth, Nilman was the son of Swedish immigrants who settled in East Buckland MA in the early 1900s, and he had a profitable career of owning and operating theaters. “A resourceful man who never married,” Nilman built a hefty estate, which he bequeathed to charities including a scholarship fund for needy students at Mohawk Trail Regional High School in his home town.
Many reference works of the period refer to Nilman’s theater as the Auto Drive-In, although I found one 1948 newspaper article that called it the Northfield Community Drive-In. The original screen was destroyed by a hurricane in 1951 (it must have been Hurricane How), but it was rebuilt, and that 80- by 54-foot screen is still used today.
The Shakour family bought the drive-in in 1967, which was around the time my references began calling it the Northfield Community. I couldn’t find the buyers’ first names directly, but they were probably Gabriel and Barbara Shakour, who founded The Keene Shopper (pdf) in 1959. That paper is now The Monadnock Shopper News, run by their son Mitchell Shakour, who also now owns the Northfield Drive-In.
Mitchell runs the drive-in on summer weekends and his veterinarian wife Carla runs the snack bar. In 2013, he briefly wondered whether the Northfield should convert to digital or shut down; community support convinced him to make the switch.
One odd thing about the drive-in – it’s just north of Northfield MA (hence the name), but the sign, parking lot, driveway and screen are all completely just barely across the border in NH. (I can’t help but think the resourceful Nilman did that on purpose.) Yet everything I read says the drive-in “straddles” the line and “sits partially” somehow in MA. My guess is the drive-in owns an adjoining chunk of MA, but I just don’t get it. I’ll come back and update this if I ever find a better explanation.
The Keene Sentinel noted another really great odd thing. Because the Shakours are vegetarians, there are plenty of veggie options available at the Northfield snack bar, including veggie burgers, veggie hot dogs and spring rolls. I’d definitely go for that!
But summer is long gone, and so is the Northfield’s season. I was left without a movie to watch on an unseasonably warm October night.
The YouTube video of the day is brief, but it was the best drone shot I could find to show the tree-lined Massachusetts border to the left. (Check out the Northfield Drive-In channel for more.) It was very nice video work to superimpose a movie on the screen in daylight, or is the digital projector just that powerful?
Miles Today / Total: 53 / 32443 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 174
Nearby Restaurant: Mim’s Market in Northfield features a little bit of everything. It looks like a two-story house plus an attic, but it’s a convenience store and delicatessen. Fresh coffee and muffins complement a fine deli sandwich built to order from the meats, cheeses and condiments available. Of course, they had me at coffee.
Where I Virtually Stayed: There aren’t any hotels close by, but there is one great bed and breakfast, the Centennial House. My King bedroom didn’t have a fridge or microwave, but it had a full bookcase and a view of the pines outside. Breakfast was great of course, and I was glad to find such a comfortable place close by.
Only in Hinsdale: According to Roadside America, there’s a house in Hinsdale that’s completely covered in old license plates. (Here’s the Google Street View.) In 2005, its creator’s daughter wrote, “This was my father’s project — Albert (Bob) Duso. It started as a garage. I was raised in this house. He ran an antique and flea market out of it for years. He LIVED for people to stop and ask him about it! He would be thrilled today to know he was listed here.”
Next stop: Pleasant Valley Drive-in, Barkhamsted CT.