New Website Documents the Theater History of Watauga County

The Watauga County Historical Society is proud and pleased to give a shoutout to our friend, colleague, and fellow WCHS member, Dr. Gary R. Boye, who is the Music Librarian and a professor at Appalachian State University. His new website, A History of Film Exhibition in Watauga County, covers the tangled web of cinema venues throughout the county from 1905 to the present.

Gary's website is in its early stages, with pages that currently document film exhibition at the American Theatre in Shulls Mills (1918-1921) and the Wonderland Theatre in Blowing Rock (1922-1928, burned 1933). But there is much more on the way, so be sure to check it out and check back from time to time!

 

First advertisement for the American Theatre at Shulls Mills, March 21, 1918, Watauga Democrat.

First advertisement for the American Theatre at Shulls Mills, March 21, 1918, Watauga Democrat.

Identifying the People and Places in H. Lee Waters's 1936 Film of Boone

The building in this image, from the 0:31 mark in our version (0:18 in the ASU/YouTube version) has completely stumped us. Some of us think it may have been located on the west end of King/Main Street, opposite the 1904 Courthouse. Others aren't so sure. Do you know what it is and where it was?

The building in this image, from the 0:31 mark in our version (0:18 in the ASU/YouTube version) has completely stumped us. Some of us think it may have been located on the west end of King/Main Street, opposite the 1904 Courthouse. Others aren't so sure. Do you know what it is and where it was?

In November 2015, the Watauga County Historical Society sponsored a screening of the 1936 H. Lee Waters film of Boone, NC, and the surrounding area (including Cove Creek High School and the Sugar Grove area). We had an awesome turnout, and as you can see from the attached spreadsheet, we were able to identify about 70 places and people who had been previously unidentified in this film.

As the image above suggests, though, we still desperately need your help identifying other folks and places in this film. Using the spreadsheet attached in the link above, you can go directly to the time code on the ASU/YouTube version of the film, which was uploaded by the Belk Library at Appalachian State University. You can view ASU's version of the film in the embedded viewer below:

H. Lee Waters (1902-1997) was an itinerant filmmaker born in Caroleen, NC. Between 1936 and 1942, Waters subsidized his income by filming 117 communities in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Tennessee for his “Movies of Local People” series, then partnered with local movie theaters to show the films. As suggested by the article below, from the October 29, 1936, edition of the Watauga Democrat, Waters was in Boone in late October to film the locals. The Pastime Theatre then ran his film during the first week of November 1936.

Article in the October 29, 1936, edition of the Watauga Democrat advertising the H. Lee Waters film of Boone.

Article in the October 29, 1936, edition of the Watauga Democrat advertising the H. Lee Waters film of Boone.

Copies and original prints of many of these films are presently held in the H. Lee Waters Film Collection at Duke University. In case you're curious, the reason for the multiple time codes in our spreadsheet is that there are actually at least two versions of this film circulating on DVD in the Boone area. We're not sure why the ASU version runs "slower" than the dub that the Watauga County Historical Society has, but both versions contain the same content, and we've accounted for those discrepancies in our spreadsheet. These two versions appear to be dubs from a duplicate reel of the original film. Numerous second- and third-generation VHS and DVD copies of these two versions survive in the area, many in private hands.

There is another version that the WCHS owns, donated to us by Cecil Greene last year, which is lovingly called the "Deluxe Pink Edition." This version, which is also a second or third generation dub from the original, was not properly fixed (a photography process) when it was made, which has created the pink cast it has. Unfortunately, this is also a sign that the film is deteriorating, and it is only a matter of time before the "Deluxe Pink Edition" loses its images to the ravages of time.

The original 16mm film of Boone has long been presumed lost, but the WCHS is now working on a lead on where it might be. We are told that the original reel of this film (which is missing from--and was never included in--the large collection of H. Lee Waters original reels and production materials at Duke University) may be located here in Boone. We are working with a potential contact to secure this reel and have it digitized using the latest digitization equipment. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, please feel free to watch the ASU/YouTube version above, stop and start as you see fit, and let us know if you recognize anyone or see any familiar places. You can email us at wataugacohistsoc@gmail.com if you have any IDs to share with us. We'll update our spreadsheet as new identifications come in, and we'll gladly give you credit. Just be sure to indicate the ASU/YouTube time code in your email, so that we can locate the person or place you're referring to.

 

Pastime Theatre ad from the Watauga Democrat, October 29, 1936

Pastime Theatre ad from the Watauga Democrat, October 29, 1936

Digital Watauga Project Awarded $25,000 Grant

(This entry was originally published on June 3, 2015)

On June 3, 2015, the State Library of North Carolina announced that it has awarded one of its 2015-16 LSTA EZ Digitization Grants totaling $25,000 to the Digital Watauga Project. Stemming from a partnership between the Watauga County Historical Society and the Watauga County Public Library, the Digital Watauga Project is designed to permanently digitize Watauga County’s remaining visual and documentary history while building trust between the community and its surviving repositories.

The funds from this grant will be used to train and employ a digitization technician, purchase necessary equipment, and begin the first wave of digitization of at least 2,500 items from several prominent collections. These include 1,500 images from the Historic Boone Collection, several dozen images and advertisements from the Appalachian Theatre Special Collection, and another 750 images from the Watauga County Cooperative Extension Aerial Photograph Collection. Other noteworthy additions in the first year of the project include 80 images from the Junaluska Collection and 400 images from the Bobby Brendell Postcard Collection, which was recently donated to the Watauga County Historical Society. Also included are nine items from the 164 Carolina Avenue Collection, representing images and letters found within the walls of a Boone house during renovations by Adrian Tait several years ago.

This last collection is especially significant. While small—consisting of three photographs, five letters, and one postcard—it represents exactly the kinds of privately held materials that the Digital Watauga Project is especially interested in digitizing in the coming years. Many residents of Boone and Watauga County possess important historic images and documents that are rarely, if ever, seen by the public. Because the Digital Watauga Project is focused on digitization, allowing owners of historic images and documents to keep their materials and any ownership rights once the materials have been digitized, the project is an ideal means for facilitating partnership and promoting trust between the public and its local repositories. In addition, all digitized materials will be available to the public for viewing online at no charge.

 

Image from the 164 Carolina Avenue Collection, Digital Watauga Project

Image from the 164 Carolina Avenue Collection, Digital Watauga Project