When I was kid growing up on Maryland’s eastern, mid-shore side of the Chesapeake Bay, there were two movie theaters we went to:
The Church Hill Theatre and The Avalon in Easton.
The Church Hill Theater was the only movie house in my home county that was still open back then. There used to be one in just about every little village around. People would ride for miles on wagons and bicycles to see the latest Shirley Temple musical, Universal monster thriller, or Roy Rogers oater, but by the time I came along in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, those places were things of the past.
Once the Church Hill closed as a second-run relic in the mid-1980’s, theaters were completely a thing of the past in Queen Anne’s. Thirty years later and we still have to travel for miles to see a big screen film.
Fortunately, my family now hitches our wagon to a Toyota.
Looking back, I can only recall one specific film I watched at the Church Hill Theatre, and not necessarily because SHAMUS starring Burt Reynolds and Dyan Cannon was all that memorable, but because of the circumstances:
It was my 11th birthday party and my mom had taken half dozen kids to the movies with us. There’s nudity in the first few minutes, and as Ruthless Reviews (https://www.facebook.com/theruthlessreviews/) puts it, ““Like any good PG movie, SHAMUS opens with a couple humping to porno music.”
In true 70’s era fashion, mom didn’t leave in a huff or demand her money back, we just sat there and continued watching, thinking, I guess, that after that embarrassing start maybe things couldn’t get worse.
Then my cousin got kicked out for throwing Jujubes at the screen.
Church Hill is halfway between the Queen Anne’s County seat of Centreville, and Chestertown, the Kent County seat.
In 1929, Elwood F. Coleman of nearby Crumpton built the Church Hill Community Building at 103 Walnut Street for use as a meeting place and a location for suppers, dances, and parties held to celebrate society, family, and individual milestones. On occasion a silent movie or two was unspooled for a local audience while a pianist accompanied. The building also housed the Town Office as well as a barbershop and dentist office.
In 1935, movie theatre equipment was installed. Steamboat Round the Bend starring Will Rogers was the first of thousands of first run films shown at the “Sho’case of the Eastern Shore” over the next 45 years. As American culture changed from Shirley Temple and hometown theaters to Linda Lovelace and mall multiplexes, Church Hill’s old art deco theater began to decay in both physical appearance and stature.
In 1983, a group of concerned citizens began a quest to acquire the theatre from the Town of Church Hill with the intent of restoring the building and launching a community theater. Known as the Friends of Church Hill Preservation, Inc., this dedicated group presented for the 1984-85 premier season the first Cultural Entertainment Series featuring films, benefit events, music concerts, and live theater.
Today, the Church Hill Theatre thrives in its capacity as a community performing arts center, and a dedicated group of volunteers carry out the theatre’s operations. Live performances are held there nine months out of every year. Many improvements have been made to the facility, including such recent upgrades as a handicapped-accessible restroom and new and improved concessions and lobby area. The theatre’s website also says that “plans are underway to refurbish the building further for state of the art fire-safety, electrical, lighting, and sound equipment.”
Programming at the Church Hill Theatre includes student outreach and dramatic arts camp for young people. Concerts, from bluegrass to barbershop to the finest jazz, are held regularly, and yet are always special occasions. Priding itself on showcasing local talent, the theatre hosts readings of original works by area playwrights, and there is a constant effort to support the production of original plays.
My friends Peggy Chiras and Steve Hazzard have recently starred in two of playwright and artistic administrator Earl Lewin’s productions, Accidentally Wealthy and St. Georges Blues.
Other favorite shows that my wife and I have attended over the years include The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, and Blithe Spirit.
Productions for the upcoming 2017 season include Witness for the Prosecution, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, and the musical version of Stephen King’s Carrie.
The Church Hill Theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a member of the Queen Anne’s County Historic Sites Consortium
COMING NEXT: THE AVALON
DON’T FORGET TO JOIN US DECEMBER 8 FOR THURSDAY AT THE COMMERCE STREET CREAMERY CAFE BISTRO IN CENTREVILLE !