The Dixie at 100

Friday, January 4, 2013
Photos submitted M.P. Boyd, center left, started the Dixie Theatre in 1913. At its 1951 renovation reopening were, from left center, James Craig, Jim B. McCord, Barbara Peyton and Carolyn (then Boyd) Hawkins. The theater's 1913 front is at lower right.

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

The Dixie Theatre opened 100 years ago on a now-forgotten date in 1913.

Silent films flickered on the movie screen, then east of Marshall County's Courthouse.

Established by M.P. Boyd, the theater was below his second story photography studio. Now, the theater is on the north side of the public square.

Without an exact date, it's impossible to have an anniversary party. However, Faris Phillips and David Sanders - they're two of the most active and loyal movers and shakers of the Dixie's successor, the Marshall County Community Theatre - verbally sparred Wednesday on what should be done to celebrate the milestone.

"It should be sometime this summer after our symphony," Sanders said. "We want to invite everybody and their dog."

"I thought," Phillips replied, "it would be all year long."

Several years ago, the troupe celebrated its 30th anniversary, having presented plays on various stages throughout town.

Thespians proposing to buy and renovate the Church Street theater reported in an undated history that the original Dixie Theatre "burned in 1924, but the building was soon renovated and remained in business" for a dozen years.

The movie house moved to the north side of the square in late 1936, according to a Lewisburg newspaper clipping kept by Carolyn Boyd Hawkins, widow of M.P. Boyd's son, John T. Boyd Sr., and, more recently, widow of Tommy Hawkins.

"Perhaps the largest number of people ever to witness a show in Lewisburg attended the opening of the Dixie," a Dec. 28, 1936 news report states. "They came to see the show and the show house."

Attendance was "overflowing during both performances," the newspaper reported.

Renovation in 1951 led to a reopening with "Drums in the Deep South" with James Craig, 1912-1985, who also appeared in appeared in "Heavenly Body" with Hedy Lamarr in 1944, "Doomsday Machine" in 1972, and episodes of "Have Gun - Will Travel" and "The Three Stooges." Craig attended the theater's reopening.

Marshall County publisher and politician Jim Nance McCord of Lewisburg was another notable member of the audience, having been governor and a congressman.

The theater "was in our family all those years from the time Mr. Boyd built the first theatre until it was sold," Hawkins said. " I miss it ... I was there every day. When I started selling tickets, children's tickets were 10 cents."

Movies provided a babysitting service.

"We opened at 10 a.m. Saturdays and ran matinees and evening shows during the week. Everybody's family and children grew up there," Hawkins said. "We had blue laws here up until sometime in the '50s and were not allowed to open on Sundays."

Business was good but times changed. Theater uses expanded with church meetings, public events and stage shows that continue under the auspices of Marshall County Community Theatre.

"There is so much talent here," Hawkins said. "It's so amazing and it's a good place for them to use it on the stage."