At one time there were 117 drive-in theaters in Kentucky, almost one for every county. Today that number has dwindled to 13. However, those that are still around seem to be thriving.
The Stanford Drive-In in Stanford, built in 1952, is one of Kentucky’s smallest drive-ins with 160 cars, but is still popular with locals. Stanford Drive-In is unique as it also doubles as Kentucky’s largest outdoor-air flea market by day on the weekends.
The novelty of the drive-in has found a new generation of patrons who are discovering that taking the family to a movie and sitting in your car does, indeed, offer flexibility not offered in a traditional cinema.
Once thought of by many as only a B-movie venue, drive-ins now seem to be getting a better quality of films. But back in the “good ole days” what was actually showing on the screen was probably down the list of reasons why a person went to the drive-in.
For many teenagers it was a rite of passage once he or she turned 16 and got their driver’s license. A drive-in offered a place to socialize, sitting on the hood of the car or in lawn chairs. And how many of you tried to slip in by way of the car’s trunk? It was also a place young couples could go alone that was socially accepted.
Several of the theaters had playground equipment and parents could watch as the kids played. The kids could do their thing, catch lightning bugs, watch a cartoon, and usually fall asleep in the back seat of the station wagon or pick-up truck. Mom and Dad relaxed and watched the movie.
Another thing that really separated the drive-in from the indoor theater was the food. Often young families would go to the drive-in just to eat out, either by munching on their own home-cooked popcorn and sandwiches, or buying the treats at the drive-in, from cotton candy to dill pickles on a stick, or chili dogs and warm buttery popcorn.
In the ’50s and ’60s, sometimes the only place you could get a pizza was at the drive-in. And those chili dogs and burgers tasted better at the drive-in than anyplace else.
The Calvert Drive-In at Calvert City in Marshall County is known for its food rather than the movie. It is common for lines to the snack bar to be backed up for over an hour before the show even begins.
The Sky Vue Twin in Winchester is Kentucky’s oldest drive-in. Built in 1945 with a single screen, a second was added in 1991. Open seven nights a week during the peak summer months, the drive-in draws heavily from Lexington, only 10 miles away.
Booneville in Owsley County lays claim to being the second oldest drive-in in the state. Moonlite Drive-In was built in 1949.
At one time Louisville boasted eight of the theaters. Today there is only one. There are none in Owensboro, Paducah, Bowling Green, Lexington, Covington, or Pikeville.
Over the years drive-in properties have given way to malls and shopping centers. Their patrons, for the most part, found other things to do. However, several rural Kentucky towns still stay connected to a simpler time. Why not make time this summer and reconnect at one of Kentucky’s drive-ins!
Where are Kentucky’s Drive-Ins?
Most of the drive-ins are open only on weekends in early spring and late fall, and seven nights during peak summer months.
27 Twin, Somerset — Two screens, and one of only two drive-ins in America to feature a Fourth of July fireworks display. Highway 27 South, (606) 679-4738.
Bourbon Drive-In, Paris — Owned and operated by the same family since 1955. Jackstown Road at Highway 68, (859) 987-2935.
Calvert Drive-In, Calvert City — Built in 1953, it draws people from four states; known for its food. Highway 95, (270) 395-4660.
Franklin Drive-In, Franklin — Customers come from Tennessee as well as Kentucky, at $7 a carload. Food is big! Highway 31-W, (270) 586-1905.
Judy Drive-In, Mt. Sterling — Built in 1956; holds 300 cars. 4078 Maysville Road, (859) 498-1960.
Kenwood, Louisville — Louisville’s only drive-in; holds 500 cars. 2001 Southside Drive, (502) 368-6454.
Moonlite, Boonesville — This 1949 theater was bought back in 1995 by the original owner’s son. Route 11, (606) 593-5370.
Mountain View, Stanton — Two screens. 1307 East College Avenue, (606) 663-9988.
Sky Vue Twin, Winchester — Built in 1945, it is Kentucky’s oldest. Two screens. Highway 60 South, (859) 744-6663.
Skyline, Summersville — Located in Green County near Greensburg. 5600 Hodgenville Road, (270) 932-2800.
Stanford Drive-In, Stanford — Built in 1952, it is one of Kentucky’s smallest with 160 cars. 1645 Hustonville Road (Highway 78), (606) 365-1317.
Starlite, Henderson — Known for its fried chicken and playground area. Two screens. Highway 60 East, (270) 827-5418.
Tri-City, Beaver Dam — Built in 1954, it holds 325 cars. Highway 231 S, (270) 274-3168.
Gary P. West is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.
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Going to flea markets is like going on a treasure hunt: you never know what you will find. Flea markets are springing up like mushrooms and there is no shortage of customers. Besides wanting to save money, some customers consider flea market shopping a hobby. Other customers find items they can resell. Whatever their plans for their purchases, flea market shoppers find the hobby appealing and exciting.
Come along with us as we pay visits to three flea markets in Kentucky, and see the Destinations sidebar for a variety of flea markets scattered across the state.
Flea Land Flea Market, located in London, is one of the largest flea markets in the state. It is nearly 14 years old and is very popular with the vendors who come to sell their wares.
“Local people call this flea market the ‘London Mall’ because it is one-stop shopping,” says Brenda Hail, an employee. “Tour buses stop here regularly. We have lots of tourists. There are televisions set up for any men who don’t want to miss watching their sporting events while their wives shop.”
With 80,000 square feet of space inside, 162 booths outside, and two concessions, you can spend the day looking over new and used items such as knives, old coins, diamonds, vitamins, herbs, fresh produce, Fenton glass, antiques, hardware, gold, tools, home accessories, Harley motorcycles, landscaping materials, and buy Mennonite baked goods and vegetable plants from greenhouses. There is an Army surplus booth and an art gallery. And you can even buy animals like goats, potbellied pigs, and turkeys.
“Going to a flea market is fun because you never know what you will find,” says Scott Smith, owner of Berea Flea Market. “Everyone likes a good deal and not everyone can afford new stuff. Owning a flea market is a learning experience and it’s fun.”
Smith says he has seen customers from all walks of life shopping in his flea market, which has been open for two years and sells everything from books to antiques and toothbrushes to saddles. There are close to 150 booths inside and more outdoors.
Michele Huff enjoyed yard sales and flea markets so much that she and a close friend opened the Flea Barn in Bowling Green in a building owned by Huff.
She says, “Our flea market began as a huge yard sale. With the economy the way it is, you can buy things cheaper here at the Flea Barn. We get customers from Canada because things are cheaper in Kentucky. We have a lot of fun.”
Flea Barn, which has more than 10,000 square feet of space, has jellies made in Kentucky, dolls, jewelry, housewares, antiques, used furniture, and appliances. Only two of their booths carry new items.
Berea Flea Market – 1117 Highway 21 West, Berea; (859) 986-1920
Open 7 days a week from 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
Flea Barn – 5521 Russellville Road, Bowling Green; (270) 782-0036
Open Thursday–Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 1-5 p.m.
Flea Land Flea Market – Highway 229 at 192 Bypass, London; (606) 864-3532
Open Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
More Flea Markets
Here is a sampling of the many flea markets to visit around the state.
Bowling Lanes Flea Market – 4547 N. Dixie Highway, Elizabethtown; (270) 737-5755
Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Eagle Lake Flea Mall – Eagle Lake Drive, Lawrenceburg; (502) 859-0500
Thursday–Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Lake Cumberland Flea Market Inc. – 95 Super Service Drive, Somerset; (606) 678-0250
Saturday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Parkway Flea Market – Kentucky Route 114 (Mountain Parkway), Prestonsburg: (606) 886-6227
Saturday and Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
S & S Bargain Barn and Flea Market – 250 B. White Road, Elkton; (270) 265-9715
Open 7 days a week, 7 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Stanford Drive-In Flea Market – 1645 Hustonville Road, Stanford; (606) 365-1317
Saturday & Sunday 7 a.m.–4 p.m.
Largest open-air flea market in Kentucky
Mary Jo Harrod is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.