Nov. 12: Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre, Henderson NC

It’s Day 316 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Finishing my North Carolina weekend, I drove 2½ hours to the only place still showing movies on a November Sunday night, from Albemarle to the Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre in Henderson NC.

Cinema Treasures says that the drive-in opened as the Moon-Glo on July 15, 1949. Its first listing in the 1949-50 Theatre Catalog showed it as owned by Ben Strozier, but within a couple of years that had changed to S.S. (Sonny) Stevenson.

In a 2008 drive-in roundup, Southern Spaces wrote “In 1977, original owner Sonny Stevenson sold the Moon-Glo to the Lyle family (apparently led by N.T. “Tinker” Lyles), who renamed the theater after its location.” Then came the amazing part.

Jim Kopp worked at the Library of Congress’s archive in Landover MD and collected drive-in movie memorabilia on eBay. In 2006, the drive-in itself was listed at auction on the site. According to The News & Observer of Raleigh-Durham, Kopp and his wife Megan “made the 200-mile trip from Virginia to check it out before placing their final bid. The place was overgrown with weeds, and Megan thought he was crazy for even considering the purchase.” Kopp bought the drive-in, not including the land, for $22,000.

The Washington Post wrote about the Raleigh Road and the Kopps, including a great anecdote. “Last year, a family arrived in two pickup trucks toting furniture from their house. The family unloaded and arranged a couch, rug, fridge, end tables, lamps and fake flowers so they could watch the outdoor movie in the comfort of their own living room.”

There’s a short documentary about the Raleigh Road from 2008, featuring Kopp, on YouTube and embedded above.

The Fay Observer wrote that Mark and Jennifer Frank “bought the place in December 2011. Previously, they owned and operated a drive-in movie theater in Keysville, Virginia, but they sold it to focus on the old facility on the outskirts of Henderson in Vance County.”

And that’s where I’ll pick this up on my next Raleigh Road installment. You see, on this night I was expecting to watch A Bad Moms Christmas, but the show was cancelled because of an issue with the digital projector. (This never used to happen with film!) They promise to have it running again in a few days, so I’m just going to have to return in a week or two.

Miles Today / Total: 156 / 35658 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 190

Nearby Restaurant: It was time for another neat little regional chain restaurant, this one with two of my favorites in the title – Smithfield’s Chicken ‘N Bar-B-Q. I grabbed a platter with two pieces of chicken and barbecue plus potato salad, coleslaw and hush puppies. Add some pecan pie for dessert and that makes a superb combination to take back to the hotel for a nice evening meal.

Where I Virtually Stayed: I was torn. There’s a Hampton Inn in Henderson, and usually that’s an automatic for me, but there’s also a well-regarded if redundantly named Red Roof PLUS+ at half the price. Since I plan to return later this month, I decided to save money this time. There was beer available in the evening, my room was clean and had all the modern amenities, and the free breakfast included eggs and sausage. The Hampton is going to have to work hard to beat this!

Only in Henderson: Strange Carolinas writes that Henderson backhoe operator Ricky Pearce created a sculpture titled Reminiscing in 2005. This tribute to Marilyn Monroe consists of two long, shapely yet flat, splayed reclining legs, plus a couple of enormous high-heeled shoes to the side.

Next stop: Starlite Drive-In, Christiansburg VA.