It’s Day 310 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Thanks to the miracle of interstate highways, it took me less than an hour and a half to drive from the Goochland Drive-In Theater in Hadensville VA, over the Blue Ridge Mountains, to Hull’s Drive In in Lexington VA.
The story of Hull’s is an uplifting story about how a community came together to save its beloved drive-in theater. I’ll get to that shortly, but first I wanted to take it all the way back to the beginning.
This drive-in opened as the Lee in 1950, built and owned by Waddy and Virginia Atkins of Roanoke on land leased by “the Hostetter family,” probably farmer Mason Hostetter who owned adjacent land. The Hull’s history page on Weebly said that the couple would “drive back and forth from Roanoke every night.”
Meanwhile, Sebert Hull and a partner had built the Mountain View Drive-In in Buena Vista VA in 1950 and sold it in July 1957. Reminiscing in an article in The News Leader of Staunton VA, Hull remembered that five weeks later, “There was a movie my wife wanted to see … I hadn’t been on the field 20 minutes when the owner came up and started propositioning me. He’d been commuting from Roanoke, and wanted someone local to take it over for him. How he knew I was there I still don’t know.” (My wife figures that Hull’s wife set him up.)
That’s when Mr. & Mrs. Atkins sold the drive-in, which immediately became Hull’s. In 1958, the Lee’s former owners purchased the Riverside Drive-In in their hometown of Roanoke.
That 1994 News Leader article asked Hull, then 70, when he would retire. “The only thing I’ve ever said is that at my age, I never really know what my health will be, so I’m just going to play it year by year.”
When Hull passed away before the 1998 season, his widow sold the drive-in to W.D. Goad, who owned the adjacent body shop. Goad ran it for one season then saw the drive-in needed technical improvements and began looking for a buyer. Hull’s was mostly dark for 1999.
In June 1999, two months after the drive-in failed to open; Eric and Elise Sheffield convened a public meeting with more than 50 concerned fans. They formed Hull’s Angels, a non-profit group dedicated to re-opening the drive-in. Within three months, Hull’s Angels had sponsored a two-night benefit at the drive-in, grown to 500 members, and raised $10,000. After researching other options, Hull’s Angels decided it should try to buy Hull’s.
The group’s first lease-purchase agreement was in April 2000, and the IRS approved Hull’s Angels as a 501(c)(3) non-profit that December, making it the first tax-exempt drive-in. In May 2001, Hull’s Angels exercised its option and purchased the business and land lease.
As you can see in the embedded YouTube video of the day, Jeremy Reter is the current executive director of Hull’s Angels. Another YouTube interview calls him the manager and projectionist, so it’s safe to say he runs the place. “Being the first non-profit, community-owned drive-in theatre in the country made us unique,” Reter told The News Virginian this year. “Since then we have been the model for other communities to save their drive-ins. It is a special thing to be non-profit because it allows people to realize that this is something that they can get behind and be part of in keeping alive.”
Hull’s had its last weekend of the season at the end of October, but it promises to be open bright and early in 2018.
Miles Today / Total: 94 / 35053 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 188
Nearby Restaurant: It’s getting to be that time of year when I look for good soup. Good soup plus pastry would be even better, and that’s Sweet Treats Bakery. The blackened chicken noodle soup was comforting and interesting at the same time, and the cheesecake brownie was two more great tastes rolled into one. Mmm, comfort food!
Where I Virtually Stayed: Lexington has what is typically an oxymoron – an unusual Hampton Inn. It’s the manor house of the historic Col Alto mansion (which has its own Wikipedia page), which is why I stayed in a queen bed “historic” room with a fireplace but no mini-fridge. Breakfast was the Hampton standard, although its setting was much nicer than most. This place is definitely something to experience.
Only in Lexington: Confederate general Stonewall Jackson’s favorite horse, now stuffed, is on display at the Virginia Military Institute Museum in Lexington. According to the VMI web site, Little Sorrel is one of two Civil War horses to be mounted at death. Atlas Oscura wrote, “Originally named Fancy, the Confederate general bought the horse for his wife as a gift in 1861, but soon decided, in a Homer-buys-Marge-a-bowling-ball-esque move, that he would keep the beast for himself”.
Next stop: Meadow Bridge Drive-In, Meadow Bridge WV.