It’s widely recognized that the first drive-in theater was Hollingshead’s drive-in opened in New Jersey on June 6, 1933. It offered to view for up to 400 vehicles and a 40 by 50-foot screen. The owner advertised his drive-in theater with the slogan, “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.” The facility only operated three years, but during that time the concept caught on in other states.
Drive-In Theaters in Michigan’s Upper Thumb
The drive-in’s peak popularity came in the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly in rural areas, with some 4,000 drive-ins spread across the United States. During its height in popularity, Michigan had about 130 drive-ins. Huron County is recorded in having two drive-in’s, the Blue Sky between Caseville and Pinnebog and the M-53 Drive-In near Bad Axe.
Intermission – 10 Minutes Between Movies
Caseville Blue Sky Theater
Blue Sky operated from 1950 – 1977. Surrounded by farmland it offered summer nighttime movies for 300. Faced with a decline in attendance the drive-in showed “blue films” in the 1970s. Remains of this theater were evident until about 2010 when landowners removed the last of the speaker stands and cement footings. All that remains is a small pile of rubble east of Gott’s Corners on Kinde Road. Soon that will be gone too.
Bad Axe Drive-In Hung In Until the 1980s
M-53 opened in 1953 and ran until 1988. I recall bringing a bunch of friends from college at Michigan State to the Drive-In. Only to meet the same bunch friends of we hung within East Lansing. Located just west of town, its 400 spaces drew folks from all over the county. Today the site is occupied by DTE Energy Offices.
Hi-Way Drive-In near Sandusky
Today there are no drive-ins in the Upper Thumb. The nearest one is the Hi-Way Drive-In in Sandusky. The Hi-Way is considered the oldest continuous running drive-in in Michigan. This drive-in has the traditional snack bar & indoor concessions, open seasonally since 1948. You can check to move times on their hotline at 810-657-6684.
Drive-In Theaters that Remain in Michigan
There are still eight drive-in theaters in Michigan. They are a fun reminder of when everyone drove huge vehicles were the backseat was as big as a couch. Those that remain still offer a glimpse of the days before VCRs, DVDs, and Streaming Services.
- Five Mile Drive-in Movie Theater – Dowagiac
- Sunset Drive-In Theater – Hartford
- Ford Drive-In Theatre – Dearborn
- The New US 23 Drive-in Theater – Flint
- Getty Drive-In – Muskegon
- Hi-Way Drive Inn – Sandusky
- Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre – Honor
- USA Hockey Drive-In – Plymouth
Related Reading for Michigan’s Drive-In Theaters
Upper Thumb Radio Stations – The Upper Thumb is the home to a very diverse blend of radio stations. While the region surrounded stations from Bay City, Tawas, and Detroit the area held its own with great local programming. Here is a detailed listing of Michigan’s Upper Thumb Radio stations located in Huron, Sanilac, and Tuscola County. Listen to their streaming broadcasts live and see coverage maps for each station.
Neat Things to Do in Michigan’s Upper Thumb That Are Free – If you are ever at a loss for things to do in the Upper Thumb, you found the right spot. We went looking for neat and interesting things to do and came up with this list of 10 free things to do in Michigan’s Thumb. Check back with us from time to time as we will find more fun down the road.
Can You Tour Wind Farms in the Upper Thumb? – The question was simple enough. “Does anyone offer a Tour of the Michigan Wind Farms in the Upper Thumb?” We had been to a wind farm tour during the Cheeseburger in Caseville festival in August. Touring a Wind Farm can be another thing to do if you’re visiting Caseville, Port Austin, or Harbor Beach this summer.
The Sparling Murders An Interview with Author Jacki Howard – I was surprised at the number of people who mentioned that their grandfather or uncle was involved as a juror or in law enforcement. The tragic murders of four family members of the Sparling family near the town of Tyre in the early 1900s still resonates in the thumb today.