Nov. 14: Warner’s Drive-In, Franklin WV

It’s Day 318 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Driving up I-81 most of the way, it took me just a little over three hours to drive from the Starlite Drive-In in Christiansburg VA to Warner’s Drive-In in Franklin WV.

According to a lengthy story on the West Virginia Historic Theatre Trail web site, Charlie Warner and his son Harold opened Warner’s Drive-In in April 1952. It held about 250 cars and had in-car speakers for decades before they were replaced by FM sound.

WOWK checked in on Warner’s in late 2013. By then, the Franklin Oil Company had acquired the drive-in and its land. James and Nancy Hess were the managers, and they showed movies on Friday and Saturday nights. Hess said the former owners found that 90 percent of people attending left after the first movie. The projection equipment and the concrete screen, built to be someone’s house, were still the originals.

After the 2014 season, movies on film dried up, and Warner’s closed. Franklin Oil Company tried to sell the drive-in to the West Virginia Department of Highways, but the deal fell through. A group of locals formed the Warner Drive-In Cultural & Resource Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, to raise money for equipment and operate the drive-in.

Warner’s reopened in September 2016, and 2017 was its first full season with the new equipment. The non-profit has plans to add a performance stage in front of the screen, repair and refurbish the screen’s interior, and eventually buy the land.

The embedded video of the day is from WHSV, Harrisonburg VA’s News Leader. It’s a fun celebration of the new community spirit that runs Warner’s as well as the fun of watching a show there. Too bad the night I was virtually there was in mid-November, when the drive-in was closed for the season.

Miles Today / Total: 174 / 36009 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 190

Nearby Restaurant: The Korner Shop Cafe is just three doors down from my hotel (see below) in downtown Franklin. It looks like the kind of small-town diner where I like to go for comfort food after visiting a closed drive-in, but the cafe had a nice selection of full dinners. I enjoyed a half-pound ribeye steak with a salad and green beans, followed by a slice of homemade cake. On a chilly November night, it was very comforting.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There aren’t very many places to stay in Franklin, and the one in the middle of downtown is the Star Hotel & Restaurant. It’s been around longer than Warner’s, but when I walked up to my room, it was clean and comfortable. It’s always nice to have a bar on the premises. With the restaurant part, I could order a full breakfast before I set out in the morning. Quaint!

Only in Franklin: Every September Franklin holds its Treasure Mountain Festival. This year’s event included the Gigantic Pumpkin Contest (winners typically over 1000 pounds), a parade, a muzzleload shooting contest, a beard and mustache contest, a watermelon seed spitting contest, and owl hooting.

Next stop: Sunset Drive-In Theater, Shinnston WV.

Nov. 8: Pipestem Drive-In, Speedway WV

It’s Day 312 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Winding down WV Highway 20 most of the way, it took me less than an hour to drive from the Meadow Bridge Drive-In, in Meadow Bridge WV of course, to the Pipestem Drive-In north of Speedway WV.

The Pipestem was late to the first wave of drive-in construction, probably opening on October 5, 1972. There was a “Watch for the opening date” ad in the Sept. 21 Beckley Post-Herald, then on Sept. 30 there was an ad for a triple feature that “starts Thursday, Oct. 5”. The movies that night were Le Mans (rated G), Lawman (GP), and Southern Comfort (X).

The Raleigh Register of July 5, 1973, in the middle of an article discussing the legality of X-rated movies, identified Ronald Warden of MacArthur as the owner of the Pineville and Pipestem drive-ins. Warden said then-recent Supreme Court rulings hadn’t changed his plans. “It’s not for the money involved,” he said. “It’s not what we like – it’s what the public pays to see. I don’t want to quit a good thing until I have to. Every time I don’t have an X-rated show, business drops off.” He stressed that he always showed X-rated movies as the third feature.

The drive-in’s first appearance on my shelf of International Motion Picture Almanacs was the 1978 edition. (It wasn’t in 1976, and I don’t have 1977.) The Pipe Stem (sic) was owned by R. Warden and had a capacity of 285. That’s how it stayed through the last IMPA list in 1988.

In 2012, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph wrote that Kenneth Woody owned the Pipestem Drive-In and had been coming to the theater for nearly three decades before purchasing it. “We try to show family-oriented films and try to keep in that line of stuff,” Woody said.

WTRF, Wheeling’s News Leader, wrote in 2015 that Woody bought the Pipestem in 2007 “from the original owner”, which would have been Warden or his family, I guess, “because he did not want to see it shut down.”

The owner and his drive-in keep a low profile, making it harder to find out any of this history and stuff. “Woody, the owner of three other Mercer County businesses, said he depends solely on regular customers and word-of-mouth and does no advertising,” WTRF wrote. Even the Pipestem’s web site is just a semi-official thing on

One more note: I’m not 100% sure that Woody still owns the Pipestem. Sure, daughter Karen Woody wrote on that page that her family owns the Pipestem. The WV Secretary of State shows that Pipestem Drive-In Theater, Inc., with officers Kenneth and Barbara Woody, was incorporated in 2007 and has filed reports through 2017. However, I’ve seen several business sources online that claim the Pipestem Drive-Inn (sic?) Theatre, same phone number, is owned by Jimmy Warden, and that its president is Patricia Warden. Is that an echo of the ownership before Woody bought it, or something else?

At any rate, the drive-in closed for the season several weeks ago. It’s another dark night for me.

Miles Today / Total: 38 / 35196 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 188

Nearby Restaurant: I stopped for lunch at Moe’s American, Greek & Italian Restaurant in Athens just south of the Pipestem. Of those options, I chose the pizza, which might have been more American than Italian because it came with the kind of New York-style thin crust that I prefer. I also saw a Philly cheesesteak on the menu – is that Greek or Italian?

Where I Virtually Stayed: The kind of hotels I tend to frequent were in a cluster in Princeton WV about 12 miles south. And since one of those was a Hampton Inn, well that’s the kind of hotel I really frequent. A Cracker Barrel was just across the quiet cul de sac, which was great for dinner. This Hampton had cookies and a popcorn machine at check-in in the lobby, which was a pleasant surprise, and its breakfast was the very nice Hampton standard.

Only in Speedway: Since Speedway is just a little unincorporated place, I’ll talk about Athens, a true town just south of Speedway and home to Concord University, which was founded in 1872. The town used to be called Concord too, but somebody noticed in 1896 that there was another Corcord in West Virginia, so it renamed itself after the famous Greek center of learning.

Next stop: Park Place Drive In, Marion VA.

Nov. 7: Meadow Bridge Drive-In, Meadow Bridge WV

It’s Day 311 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I-64 took me most of the way of my hour and a half drive from Hull’s Drive In in Lexington VA to the Meadow Bridge Drive-In in Meadow Bridge WV of course.

This tiny drive-in, which never held more than 180 cars, opened on July 4, 1953 as the N & R Drive-In Theatre, owned by Ned Garten. Details about its early days are very sketchy, and the part I find most curious is the number of times Garten tried to sell it. An ad in The Raleigh Register in July 1954 listed the “new drive-in theatre” for sale, and a similar ad appeared in September 1956. The “For Sale ads” got larger and more serious in June 1958, as Garten wrote that he was moving to Florida for his health and offered the N & R for $15,000, less than the cost of the projector. That might have been when the sale finally happened; the following year, one “Roger Ned Garten” of Ft. Pierce FL attended the family reunion.

The majority of what I could find about the drive-in came from a single lengthy article in The Register-Herald in 2013. That article said that after Garten, “the Thomas Theaters company ran it. Then one of the shareholders purchased the location outright.”

I turned to my shelf of International Motion Picture Almanacs to see how their information lined up. The IMPAs had Garten through 1959, then the drive-in was off the lists until 1978. By then it was listed as the Meadowbridge (sic) and owned by B. Hartley. In the 1980-82 editions, the owner was L. Thomas, which must be that Thomas Theaters that the newspaper mentioned. In 1984, the IMPA showed J. Boyd as the owner.

Now we pick up the newspaper’s narrative. “Word on the street was that the theater was going to turn X-rated because its screen faced away from the road. That’s when (current owner Howard) McClanahan stepped in and decided to make an offer.”

In fact, the Meadow Bridge had already shown a fair number of X-rated movies, a fact hinted at in the article and verified by 1973-74 ads in The Raleigh Register. Anyway, McClanahan was listed as the owner in the 1986 IMPA.

McClanahan had worked at the Meadow Bridge (or was it the N & R?) when he was young, and he maintained a day job until 2001. Since his retirement, he’s been able to devote his attention to his little drive-in. “I don’t know what I’d do if we didn’t have this place,” he told The Register-Herald. “Plus, I have this problem — when I buy something, I never get rid of it.”

The YouTube video of the day comes from WVNS, Lewisburg’s News Leader. It was shot in 2013 during the Project Honda contest to win a new digital projector for several drive-ins. The Meadow Bridge already had its digital projector, but was trying to win anyway? I guess it could have passed it along to a neighbor.

At any rate, the drive-in closed for the season several weeks ago. It’s another dark night for me.

Miles Today / Total: 105 / 35158 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 188

Nearby Restaurant: The best place to eat in Meadow Bridge is almost certainly Carol’s Restaurant, home of the local legend, Carol’s hot dogs. They’re grilled and covered in some homemade concoction of chili and other stuff. There’s also all the coffee you can drink and plenty of other standard fare, but what’s the point of typical food? For dessert, the chocolate cake was an excellent companion to one more cup of Joe.

Where I Virtually Stayed: One of these days, I feel like saying that there were no hotels anywhere near the drive-in, so I slept in my car. Not this time, not quite. There was a pretty good one, the Sleep Inn in Beaver, less than a half hour away. My clean, comfortable room had all the modern amenities, and breakfast even had hot sausage and biscuits. For a solid stay like that, the price was amazing.

Only in Meadow Bridge: Just up I-64 in Sam Black Church, there’s a historical marker for the Greenbrier Ghost. It reads, “Interred in nearby cemetery is Zona Heaster Shue. Her death in 1897 was presumed natural until her spirit appeared to her mother to describe how she was killed by her husband Edward. Autopsy on the exhumed body verified the apparition’s account. Edward, found guilty of murder, was sentenced to the state prison. Only known case in which testimony from a ghost helped convict a murderer.”

Next stop: Pipestem Drive-In, Speedway WV.