SKOWHEGAN — As the sun sets on the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre, 70 years of Morning Sentinel coverage memorialized it as a once-popular theater, music venue, film festival cinema and, for a time, a place of worship.

The grand opening announcement for the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre, which ran in the Morning Sentinel on June 27, 1953.

The first mention of the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre appeared in a full-page advertisement for the theater’s opening June 28, 1953. Moviegoers were promised “the best in picture and sound” as they enjoyed a double bill that included the features “Take Care of My Little Girl” and “The Secret of Convict Lake.”

The theater for decades would regularly advertise its showings in the Morning Sentinel. At first, the ads were daily, then weekly. And after this weekend, they will appear no more as the drive-in theater closes for good.

In its early years, the drive-in was venerable not only for its dedication to cinema. It was a place of worship, too.

Going back to 1954, Skowhegan churches known today as the Centenary United Methodist Church and Skowhegan Federated Church sponsored regular, well-attended “drive-in church” services at the theater, according to columnist Arch Soutar. Beyond 1957, the services were no longer advertised in the paper.

An advertisement from 1957 for a “drive-in church service” at the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre.

Led by the Rev. J. H. Pressey, the 9 a.m. services invited those in cars to head to 201 Waterville Road in Skowhegan on Sundays and listen to service — from their vehicles. Portland Press Herald reporters in the 1950s believed these services were the first of their kind in the state.


A guest book from the services in the summer of 1955 found that visitors from “most of the 48 states” and many Canadian provinces attended.

“A check-up of a recent service showing automobiles from Indiana, Ohio, New York, Connecticut, and Prince Edward Island, Canada, in addition to Maine cars,” Newton C. Reed wrote in the Press Herald that summer.

Reed said child care was provided to entertain younger children while their parents listened to a service.

Walter Boulette, a projectionist for at least 12 years at the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre, with his dog Bambi. Darla Pickett/Morning Sentinel file

For the next few decades, with the exception of a Morning Sentinel story following a 1957 break-in at the theater, in which no money and an undetermined quantity of candy, gum and cigarettes were stolen, it was business as usual.

A couple of major players at the drive-in theater were profiled in the newspaper through the years, including Skowhegan firefighter Walter Boulette, who had worked at the drive-in as a projectionist beginning in 1962, and Gerry Moulton, who worked at the theater for more than 50 years, from its opening and into the 21st century.

From 1990, coverage began to focus on drive-in theaters as dying businesses.


“Drive-in theaters are dinosaurs,” Stanley Majorowski of Film Transportation of Boston, a company that delivered films and refreshments to the theaters, said to the Lewiston Sun Journal in 1990. “Real estate has gone up so — the land value is worth so much more now — that with what these drive-ins were making, they can’t do it.”

At that time, only six such theaters remained in Maine — in Skowhegan, Saco, Westbrook, Bridgton and Madawaska, and near Calais. By 1997, the drive-in theater near Calais had closed.

“You don’t want to fight change,” Douglass Corson, who owned the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre for decades, until 2012, said in the 1990 article. “And yet I suppose anyone who is foolish enough to work in a drive-in probably is fighting change to a certain extent.”

In a 1995 feature story written by Sentinel and Kennebec Journal columnist J.P. Devine, Corson said he had not seen a night with full attendance for a decade.

Gerald Moulton, who worked at the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre for more than 50 years, checks projection equipment at the theater in 1990. Sun Journal file

More stories on the decline of the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre appeared in recent years, as the venue struggled to raise the money necessary to convert its equipment from 35 mm film to digital. To afford the conversion, owner Don Brown, who took over from Corson in 2012, told the Maine Sunday Telegram in 2016 he was accepting donations.

Brown eventually raised the needed money — nearly $60,000. The same year, drive-in theater owners mourned the loss of smokers from their businesses after the Office of the Maine Attorney General issued a ban on smoking at the venues.

The Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre experienced a final upswing when other businesses began to take a turn for the worse — in 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The socially distanced theater became the venue for the Maine International Film Festival from 2020 to 2022. It was also the site of musical performances, including by country singer Garth Brooks.

Don Brown, owner of the Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre, in 2016. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

The theater has been a cultural landmark in Skowhegan for decades, Don Brown said in March, as he announced he was looking for a buyer. This month, he announced the property will be taken on by someone who has no interest in maintaining its operations as a drive-in theater.

“It’s a very unique experience during the summer,” Brown said earlier. “The movies are very different, the cars are very different, but the experience of sitting out there and watching the movie on a giant screen on a starlit night is the same as it was back in 1953.”

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