PRINCESS THEATRE - Raising the Curtain: The Family and Mid-Town Drive-ins

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Family and Mid-Town Drive-ins

Jim Thornton asked me the other day about the old drive-in that was where McDonald's is today.  It don't seem possible to younger folks that a drive-in theater could possibly fit in the area next to the Exit 347 ramp, but one did back in the 50s!

I followed up by asking Dub Harmon what he remembered, and even though he couldn't remember full names, he could remember much of the timeline.

A Mr. Bryson actually owned the land where The Family Drive-in was, and Buster Clark was the manager of the drive-in up until about 1959 when the land was finally sold to the state for right-of-way for the new Interstate 40 construction.

At the same time The Family was in operation, Mr. Jones was operating the Roane Drive-In in Midtown.  Martin Theaters, who then owned the Princess Theatre in Harriman, decided to buy the Midtown drive-in.  They asked James "Dub" Harmon to become the new manager and changed the name to the Mid-Town Drive-in.  Dub replaced a Mr. Waller, who managed the old Roane Drive-in.

Dub remembers that the projector and rectifiers from the Family Drive-In were brought to the Mid-Town Drive-in, and the rest of the Family was dismantled.  Martin had purchased the equipment, including the screen, which must have been newer than that being used at the old Roane Drive-in.  Apparently Midtown didn't need new supports, so the utility poles that held up the screen, were sold to the city of Harriman for $11 each.  Martin wanted $20, but Dub settled on the lesser amount in order to complete the transaction.

At the same time all this was happening, Dub was also the Princess manager, having moved down from the Webbo sometime earlier.  Dub needed a solution to his fortunate, yet burdensome predicament,  of having three jobs!  He had just recently gotten into the furniture business (H. G. Furniture) with Junior Ballard, so he needed some relief!

Dub decided to bring Cecil Johnson, his brother-in-law, down from the projection booth at the Princess and teach him the managerial ropes.  Cecil took to it right a way, so Dub was free to work his furniture day job, and manage the Mid-Town Drive-in at night.

He did this for years.  Working until 5PM at the store, then running the drive-in until the last movie was over at night.  He did all this and still had time to plan and teach a Sunday school class each Sunday morning at Riverside Baptist Church.

Dub continued to give Cecil his night off each week, and time for a yearly vacation, up until 1999 when Cecil finally closed the Princess.

So, that's a bit of Roane County history that few remember anymore.  The movie industry in our county has always fascinated me, so every time I'm around Dub I ask him to feed me a little more.  I told him he should write a book!

Thanks Dub, for the memories!

If any readers have more info on this, or remembers it differently, please post comments.  I would love to hear more details!

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