Oct. 4: Northfield Drive-In Theatre, Hinsdale NH

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.

Sept. 22: Milford Drive-In Theater, Milford NH

It’s Day 265 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. With lots of twisty highways, it took an hour and a half to drive from Laconia NH to the Milford Drive-In Theater, in Milford NH of course.

According to its About Us page, the Milford Drive-In was built in 1958 and owned by “a local group of people. Several area contractors contributed labor and materials during construction hoping for a share of future profits.” The New Hampshire Union Leader wrote that Bob Goodrich built the Milford and owned it until he died in 1969. Then again, Sidney Goodridge’s 2014 obituary says that he was “the original owner and builder of the Milford”.

At any rate, the drive-in had a single 84 foot wooden frame screen when it opened. During the 1960’s the drive-in was leased to and managed by another couple. In 1969, Bob and Fay Scharmett purchased the Milford, and the Scharmetts have operated it continuously since then, except for three years during the 1970’s when the business was leased to Fall River Theater Corporation.

In 1984, the drive-in became a twin when additional acreage was cleared and a second screen was added. A second floor was constructed above the original building to provide room for a new projection room.

The Milford has been a leader in drive-in modernization. The Scharmetts replaced the original screen with a new steel screen, built a new marquee and box office, and was the first drive-in in New Hampshire to provide both AM and FM radio sound. In 2012, it was one of the first drive-ins to convert to digital projection. Barry Scharmett, who ran the theater with brother Steven at the time, told the Union Leader. “Everybody has a choice: Switch to digital this year, or next year. That’s it, because all of the companies we deal with are not going to be making film anymore.”

There’s another advance that I haven’t seen elsewhere – a track for radio-controlled toy vehicles, available to rent. That’s another great way to keep the kids busy and make enough to cover any extra expense.

The YouTube video of the day is one of a daily video series by Keller. The aerial views are terrific, though I can’t agree that “there were thousands more drive-ins in the 1960s” equates to “drive-ins aren’t making a comeback.”

With two active screens, the Milford gave me a choice on this Friday night, so I went with the new release. With a bucket of popcorn and a hot fudge sundae, I was ready to enjoy the show.

Miles Today / Total: 75 / 31107 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: The Lego Ninjago Movie / 167

Nearby Restaurant: For something different, I tried the Russian cuisine at My Sister’s Kitchen for lunch. The potato pierogis were amazing, and I passed the crepes (are those Russian?) in favor of the bread pudding. It’s so rare to find good bread pudding, and this made me happy I stopped by.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Google Maps said that the closest hotel to the Milford was the Hampton Inn in Nashua. Since TripAdvisor users voted it the best hotel in Nashua, and since I enjoy the predictable niceness of Hamptons, that’s where I stayed. There were cookies waiting for me at check-in. My room had the full set of modern amenities. And the breakfast was the standard, very nice Hampton spread.

Only in Milford: A piece of Milford is on US currency. According to Wikipedia, it was once home to numerous granite quarries, which produced a stone that was used, among other things, to make the pillars for the U.S. Treasury in Washington DC, as seen on the back of the $10 bill. Also, the downtown Milford Oval (live cam here), officially designated Union Square, is neither square nor oval in shape but triangular.

Next stop: Hathaway’s Drive-In Theatre, North Hoosick NY.

Sept. 21: Weirs Drive-In Theatre, Laconia NH

It’s Day 264 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. With lots of twisty highways, it took almost two hours to drive from The Saco Drive In in Saco ME to Weirs Drive-In Theatre at Weirs Beach in Laconia NH.

The Saco and Weirs are two very old drive-ins, but that’s where the comparison ends. The Saco is a single-screen that is poised for decades to come. The Weirs has four screens, and will probably be sold before the 2018 season begins. On the day I arrived, there was news about that, but first let’s go over its history.

The Weirs was opened as a single screen in 1948 by Harry and Yvonne Gaudet, according to a fine post on the Cinema Obscura blog. Then as now, it was located a stone’s throw from Lake Winnipesaukee, popular with tourists. The blog said that “other than a brief period,” the Weirs stayed in the Gaudet family until 1974, when they sold it to Lawrence and Patricia Baldi. The blog said the Baldis added a second screen “in the 80s” though it still appears as a single screen in the 1988 International Motion Picture Almanac. Two more screens came later, and that’s where we are now.

Lawrence passed away in 2011, and the big news came in 2015 when Patricia, now in her mid 70s, announced that she was putting the Weirs for sale with an asking price of $2.5 million. She told the New Hampshire Union Leader that she couldn’t keep up with the drive-in any longer. “It’s too much for me. I have mixed feelings, it’s time to move on,” she said. Despite the planned sale, the Weirs upgraded to digital projection later that year.

In August 2017, Ms. Baldi got that asking price from Al Mitchell, a developer who also owns a 1-acre parcel adjacent to the Weirs. He told The Laconia Daily Sun that he plans to build condominium units, an event center, a hotel and other businesses. The apparent final night for the drive-in was Labor Day, Sept. 4, commemorated in the Concord Monitor and elsewhere.

But on Sept. 21, just before I rolled in, the Daily Sun announced that the sale had fallen through “after an initial study showed it to be in an archeologically important area where the potential for Native American artifacts could increase the costs of development.” Mitchell said he was “beyond disappointed,” and the property went back on the market for $2.6 million. “If no buyer emerges, Baldi said there is even a chance she could re-open the drive-in next summer.” We’ll see.

The video of the day comes straight from NECN, New England’s News Leader, from May 2015 when the Weirs was put up for sale.

It’s weird to visit a drive-in when I’m not sure that it’ll be active next year. I’m sorry to have missed out on its last days, if that’s what they were. Here’s hoping it’ll return next spring.

Miles Today / Total: 74 / 31033 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 166

Nearby Restaurant: The Kellerhaus offers an ice cream smorgasbord. I didn’t even know that was a thing. That sounds a lot better than “make your own sundae,” and it’s closer to the feel of adding several flavors of homemade ice cream to a dish and carrying it through an amazing variety of toppings. I didn’t have time for the breakfast waffles, but I’ll bet they are just as good.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There are plenty of summer motels around here, looking a little quieter as the days cool off, and the one I chose was the Grand View Motel. The views really are nice, my room was clean and comfortable with the full set of modern amenities, and the price was very reasonable. Plus, the Kellerhaus is right next door.

Only in Laconia: Native Americans used Weirs Beach as a summer camp for hunting and fishing as long ago as 8000 BC, according to the Lake Winnipesaukee Museum. The native Abenaquis built a special type of basket, called a weir, to capture the abundant fish (shad) that migrated through the Weirs Channel on their way from Lake Winnipesaukee to the Merrimac River to the sea.

Next stop: Milford Drive-In Theater, Milford NH.