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Area theater houses remembered

Long before air-conditioned theaters, Lincoln County — and Brookhaven — in particular, have had flourishing entertainment venues through variety shows, silent motion pictures, “talkies” and a drive-in.

Most of the theaters since 1876 have been within a block of Cherokee Street in Brookhaven. The street now includes Brookhaven Little Theatre, the second largest community theater in Mississippi. The BLT is based in the former building known as The Haven theater on West Cherokee Street.

The Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society will give a free presentation, “Theaters in Lincoln County,” at the Jimmy Furlow Senior Citizen Center, 201 South First St., at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29.

Baby boomers and older individuals may recognize pictures of many of the old theaters, bringing memories of going to the 51 Drive-In, an empty field on Hwy. 51 since the late 1900s, and some may have heard of Heuck’s Opera House from the early- to mid-1900s.

Most people can recall an especially memorable experience at a local theater such as a favorite movie, a Saturday matinee, their first movie date, a movie at the drive-in or being part of a live performance on stage, said LCHGS President Joe Brown.

The bustling entertainment offers in Brookhaven in years gone by often came with contests, Brown said.

“They would give a pony away in a contest, or businesses would give tickets to the movies if you shopped at certain businesses,” he said.

He can recall paying 50 cents to see a movie years ago.

An old newspaper advertisement shows one could see a show at Heuck’s Opera House for 15 cents to 35 cents.

“Our presentation will be brief on each theater, but will include when they existed, a few local owners, where they were located, and in a few cases, we have actual photographs of the interiors and exteriors of the buildings.” said local historian Sue Dorman.

A PowerPoint presentation will include pictures and advertisements from The Daily Leader and its bi-weekly publication, so the information is accurate, Brown said.

Anyone with pictures of or memorabilia from Brookhaven’s old theaters is asked to bring them to the presentation.

Besides the Haven, two other historic theater buildings in Brookhaven are still standing — the Mary Jane Lampton Auditorium on what was once Whitworth College and is now the Mississippi School of the Arts and the former Lofton’s Building, also formerly known as the Arcade building, which is undergoing renovations to become a retail space with apartments upstairs.

In May 1916, the local newspaper reported that a man whose city was being nominated to host a statewide meeting said, “We can’t entertain like Brookhaven. Pass it on!”

“Over a century later, Brookhaven continues to set the standard for entertainment and theater,” Brown said.

The LCHGS also has two other presentations lined up in the following months, all at the Furlow Center and at the same time as the theater presentation. The presentations are “Lewis and Clark Expedition” Sept. 26, and “Story of the Founder of Brookhaven” Oct. 24.

The LCHGS’s museum, at 227 South Cherokee, opened about 10 years ago after the Jewish community turned it over as a site for Lincoln County history, Brown said. Part of the museum is dedicated to the Jewish community.

“The museum includes old copies of The Daily Leader, business paraphernalia, everything you can imagine,” he said. “Quite of crowd of people from all over the country and around the world have been here.”

Visits to the museum are free. It is open Tuesdays and Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s also open the first Saturday of each month.

On other days, the museum is open to groups or families on request. For instance, Boy Scouts from Clinton took a train to Brookhaven on a recent Saturday to tour the museum and the Military Memorial Museum, Brown said.

Story by Robin Eyman