Drive-In movie theaters have been part of New Hampshire state culture for almost 70 years. Even prior to New Hampshire’s oldest Drive-in theater opening in 1948, drive-in restaurants in New Hampshire were showing films outdoors. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, as the popularity of Drive-in theaters grew across the U.S., the number of New Hampshire drive-ins grew rapidly, reaching double digits, with numerous outdoor theaters spread across the state. As the decades went on, interest in outdoor theaters started to taper off, and many of New Hampshire’s drive-in theaters disappeared. Now only three of the original drive-ins are still in operation, and a total of four remain in the state.
Milford Drive-In Theater
The Milford Drive-In Theater was built in 1958 by a group of local residents. The theater originally opened as a single screen with an 84 foot wooden screen. In the 1960’s the theater was leased to a local couple, and in 1969 the theater was purchased by the Scharmett family, who have run the drive-in ever since, with the exception of a three year period. In 1984 the property was expanded and a second screen was added. The theater has since replaced the wooden screen with a steel screen, and complete renovations have been done on the concession stand, restrooms, and box office. The theater has also been upgraded with digital projection and Dolby Digital Sound. The theater grounds are clean and well maintained, and the snack bar has a wide selection and reasonable prices.
Northern Nights Drive-In
Northern Nights Drive-in is the newest of New Hampshire’s drive-in theaters. Built by owners Annette and Raymond Dubreuil in 2008, Northern Nights theater is in beautiful Lancaster, NH; located in Coos County, in the Great North Woods region. Northern Nights features a single 25 x 50 ft. screen in a beautiful scenic setting, and a snack bar that features homemade foods and all your drive-in favorites. Northern Nights is unique among NH drive-ins in that it offers camping and a movie. For an additional fee you can reserve a site and watch the movies fireside from your campsite. The theater is currently still running 35mm projection, but hopes to convert to digital projection soon. To help with the conversion to digital, they are accepting donations via their PayPal, and have a Kickstarter campaign in the works. The owners also have plans to add an eat-in diner in addition to the snack bar, and hope to eventually add a second screen.
Nestled on the New Hampshire/Massachusetts border, Northfield Drive-In Theater, New Hampshire’s oldest drive-in, was opened in August, 1948 by drive-in pioneer Carl Nilman, who owned numerous drive-in theaters in MA and NH. The original 80 x 54 ft. screen was destroyed by a hurricane in 1951, but was re-built to the same dimensions and is still in use today. In 1967 the theater was sold to the Shakour family who also owned the Keene Drive-in. The theater has been family-run by the Shakour’s ever since. In 1998 the theater was used as a set in the film “The Cider House Rules,” appearing in three scenes in the Academy Award-nominated film. In the spring of 2014 the theater upgraded to digital projection and Dolby Digital Sound. Northfield’s snack bar offers an extensive selection of food and treats. The theater will celebrate it’s 70th anniversary in 2018.
Weirs Drive-In Theater
Opened in 1948 by Harry and Yvonne Gaudet, the Weirs Drive-In Theater was New Hampshire’s second drive-in theater, and is the state’s largest. Located on the edge of Lake Winnipesaukee, the outdoor theater has been a favorite destination for both vacationers and locals for decades. In the early days, the theater featured carbon arc projectors, vacuum tube speakers, and a snack bar. The Gaudets ran the theater until spring of 1966, when their daughter Pauline and son-in-law Donald Drouin took over ownership. Other than a brief period, the Drouins owned and operated the drive-in until 1974, when they sold it to Lawrence and Patricia Baldi, who have owned the theater ever since. The Baldis eventually expanded the drive-in by adding a second screen in the mid 80’s, and later added two additional screens, making it New Hampshire’s only four screen drive-in theater. In May of 2015 the Drive-in was put on the market for $2.5 million dollars. Despite being up for sale, the theater remains in full operation, and upgrades are still being made. Mrs. Baldi has plans to convert two of the theaters four 35mm projectors to digital this summer.
A special thanks to Warren Huse from the Laconia Historical and Museum Society for aiding me in my research of the Weirs Drive-In Theater.
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