An old-fashioned slice of Americana

By The HOWL Street Team

When the summer moon takes its seat low in the evening sky, the cars arrive. Gravel crunches underneath tires and a lanky man in a Red Sox hat leans out to collect a $27-per-vehicle entry fee.

The crawling caravan rolls slowly toward a big screen looming in the twilight. Staking out spaces, families and friends sprawl on car hoods, in lawn chairs and the beds of backed-in trucks.

There’s magic happening here.

In a time where we all seem to live on camera, busily Instagramming and tweeting our every move, the drive-in theater remains a throwback to simple summer nights and small-town sociability, where we put down our phones and concentrate on the experience.

Butter soaked popcorn wafts from the snack bar, dogs crouch between humans huddled under blankets, a group of high school kids snap up a fresh batch of piping hot crinkle fries and animated treats sing “Lets All Go to the Lobby” across a big screen the same way they did in 1955.

The nation’s first open air movie theater was in Camden, N.J., in 1933, when Richard Hollingshead placed a Kodak projector on his car hood to transmit “Wives Beware,” a comedy about a philandering car salesman. The images flickered on a screen nailed between two trees, with a radio to provide sound.

Massachusetts hosted one of the first five drive-ins in the country with the opening of the Weymouth Drive-in Theater in May of 1936. Over the next decade, 20 more would spring up in Massachusetts and during the peak drive-in years of the ‘50s, the state had nearly 90 open-air theaters in operation. Presently, there are only a few remaining in Massachusetts and a handful in neighboring New Hampshire.

Here’s our top five to visit for an old-school and affordable night out that will make you happy to forget about that cell phone — at least for a little while.

Mendon Twin
35 Milford St., Mendon | 508-473-1092
A New England institution since 1954, the Mendon Twin was purchased by the Andelman brothers of Phantom Gourmet in 2014. Besides the famous snack bar that serves fresh popcorn and other treats, the new 5,000-square foot beer garden boasts fire pits and a view of Screen One. Box office opens at 6pm.
$27 per car up to six, and $5 for each additional person.
mendondrivein.com

Wellfleet
51 State Highway (Route 6) | 508-349-7176
Location is everything. Besides this great drive-in established in 1957, you get mini golf, a playground and a flea market with around 200 vendors Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday from 8am to 3pm. Oh yeah, and there’s miles of Wellfleet beaches to visit in between. Films are shown rain or shine. Box office opens at 7pm.
$10 for adults, $7.50 for seniors and kids 4-11, free for kids under 3.
Wellfleetcinemas.com/drive-in-theater

Leicester Triple Drive In
Route 9, 1675 Main St., Leicester | 508-892-4400
Very little has changed since the Elvis classic Double Trouble played at this small town drive-in’s opening night back in 1967. In fact, the golden oldies still play on the drive-in’s radio channel, taking you back in time. Box office opens at 6pm.
$28 per car. Cash only.
leicesterdrivein.net

Milford Drive-In Theater
570 Elm St. in Milford, N.H. | 603-673-4090
This is the spot where a few HOWL staffers spent nights during their childhood clad in pajamas and playing on swings while their parents tuned into the latest Rambo movie. Holy ‘80s flashback! Two thumbs up for the perfectly salted crinkle fries in a cardboard boat. The box office opens at 6:15pm Friday and 7:15pm Saturday.
$27 for cars up to six and $5 per additional person.
milforddrivein.com

Northern Nights
51 Causeway St., Lancaster, NH | 603-788-3558
Family owned and operated, this New Hampshire drive-in (closer to the Vermont border than it is to Massachusetts) still shows movies in 35mm format. What we love about this place, besides the nostalgia, is they offer on-site camping for an additional $15 to the movie ticket prices. Box office opens at 7:30pm. Movies begin after dark.
$8 per adult and $5 for kids 10 and under.
Northern Nights is looking for help to go digital to keep showing movies and preserve their open-air theater. To donate and learn more visit:
Northernnightsdrive-in.com

About The Author

HOWL Street Team

Exploring everything from food and shopping to arts and entertainment so you can experience the best of what Greater Lowell has to offer.