OHIO VALLEY — The Kanauga Drive-in theater was a staple to local entertainment in Gallia, Mason and Meigs counties for more than 50 years. It was the host of many late night movies and several special events. Though the drive-in is gone, the memories live on.
The drive-in was first opened by Harry Wheeler in 1950. Harry was the son of Fred Wheeler, who purchased what is now the Ariel Theater in 1921 to play talkies (early movies) and stage shows. Harry also built the Colony theater on second avenue in 1937, where it stood and played movies for more than 60 years. After Harry opened the drive-in in 1950, the venue underwent several changes over the years. In 1955 it was expanded 20 feet on both sides for a new movie format, Cinemascope. The original plastic speaker boxes were replaced in the 1980s for newer cast metal boxes that many locals remember.
Harry passed away in the late 1980s, leaving the operation of the drive-in to his son Tom Wheeler. Tom also ran the Colony Theater on second avenue. The movie business in Gallia County directly involved the Wheeler family in some form or another from 1937 to present; Tom’s wife still operates a movie rental store on second avenue in Gallipolis.
“I grew up watching 12 movies a week,” Fred Wheeler (Tom’s brother) said. “Back then, we would run one film Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, another Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and then a special on Saturday.”
He explained this practice came from the old stage shows, which changed three times a week.
Many local residents also remember the concerts held at the Kanauga Drive-in. Trace Adkins played the venue in October of 2004, as did Merle Haggard in July of that year. Charlie Daniels also played at the drive-in theater in July of 2006.
Over the years flea markets were hosted at the drive-in, as were several car shows and a haunted drive-in before it closed, sometime in 2007, Fred guessed.
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