Dec. 10: Winter Drive-In, Wintersville OH

It’s Day 344 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Driving mostly through West Virginia, it took me less than an hour to go from the Hilltop Drive-In Theatre, southeast of Chester WV, to the Winter Drive-In in Wintersville OH.

The Winter was a late entrant in the first wave of drive-ins, opening in August 1969. It was planned and built by the Skirball Investment Company, and it was huge. Its screen was about 120 feet wide, and its lot could hold about 1000 cars.

The Skirball folks added a second screen in the late 1970s, and the International Motion Picture Almanacs listed them as the owners through their 1988 edition. A commenter on Cinema Treasures said that the Winter “closed for several years during the 1990s”. The United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association said it reopened in 1997. Waymarking wrote that its third screen was added in 2001 and the fourth in 2004.

I don’t know who reopened the Winter and added all those screens. My first solid info after those events came this year when owner Ross Falvo and manager Debbie Harris noticed that they simply weren’t going to find many more current 35mm films to show. The drive-in had opened on one screen to start the season but would need to shut down without a way to play more movies. The embedded video of the day (from WTOV, the Upper Ohio Valley’s News Leader) talks about the Winter’s GoFundMe campaign to raise money for digital projectors.

Unfortunately, the results from that fundraiser was as disappointing as is typical. When WTOV celebrated the grand re-opening of the Winter on Aug. 24, Falvo had paid for two projectors himself. So two of the four screens were operational again, with a third planned for the coming weeks. Falvo said it was all worth it. “It’s amazing the people we get here on the weekends and weekdays that now are the grandparents that whenever they first started coming here were the children.”

The drive-in closed for the season in October, and I’m glad it’s in good shape to return next spring.

Miles Today / Total: 25 / 38922 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 200

Nearby Restaurant: The best place in Wintersville, Giannamore’s Pizza, is closed on Sundays so I went for a place closer to my hotel in Steubenville. It’s pretty much all they do, but the Capri Sausage & Meatball serves up some amazing Italian sandwiches. With easy take-out from their little place, I was glad that my hotel was within walking distance.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Google said the closest hotels to the Winter are in Steubenville, so that’s where I went. According to TripAdvisor, the best-rated hotel in town is (pausing to take a breath) Best Western Plus The Inn at Franciscan Square. Sure enough, my clean, comfortable room had all the modern amenities, and breakfast had a great variety to start my day, all at a surprisingly nice price.

Only in Wintersville: Data from Steubenville, just a few miles east, have become the centerpiece of air pollution studies, according to a 2006 article in The New York Times. It wrote, “Three decades ago, Steubenville’s reputation for having the country’s foulest air made it a magnet for researchers in the young field of environmental epidemiology.” Intergenerational studies were continuing on the residents still living it town decades after the polluting factories had shut down.

Next stop: Lynn Auto Drive In Theatre, Strasburg OH.