By: Hillary Delaney
Just after the turn of the century, a new novelty was generating excitement in our area and around the world: movies! The earliest films in this era were educational in nature, the interest mainly was in the technology, rather than the content. In 1906, a high-speed train, loaded with film gear, left Cincinnati for Chattanooga, filming the scenery the entire route. Within a few months, the Florence Fair was offering a “moving pictures tent” as one of its attractions, and the Florence School became a screening room.
There were viewings at the hall in Bullittsville in 1911, and the “World of Cincinnati” exhibition featured motion pictures as one of its big-draw attractions in 1912. That same year, some of our citizens along the river may have taken the ferry to Rising Sun and Lawrenceburg, both regularly showing moving pictures. Several theaters took a break that year, though, due to outbreaks of small pox, scarlet fever and diphtheria.
As the new century rolled into its “teen years,” moving pictures really began to gain popularity. Walton was at the forefront, offering a combination of vaudeville acts and moving pictures in 1913 which garnered a big response. Taking note of this were entrepreneurs Roy Stamler and Charles Chambers, who worked as partners and independently to spread the joy of film in the area. They began with the Walton Opera House, offering two shows per week in the winter months of 1913-1914, an indoor venue with warmth and entertainment.
In the spring of 1914, as the weather warmed up, Stamler and Chambers began to run an outdoor “Airdome” theater, next to the Equitable Bank. This type of venue was typically covered, but without walls, offering a breeze to the audience. At ten cents per person, they must have been doing a booming business, as Chambers bought a lot for $500 that year, with the aim to build a hall for movies, and Stamler opened both the “Royal” in Walton and the “Duncan” in Falmouth. These venues offered only “high class pictures,” according to the Boone County Recorder.
As the 1920s roared in, the local movie business grew. Robert Berkshire was showing movies in the Universalist Church in Burlington, later turning over the operation to George Porter, who expanded to Petersburg, as well. The viewers were becoming sophisticated, opting for silent film stars Rudy Valentino and Gloria Swanson for 33 cents per ticket over free films like “Farm Bureau Romance” and “The World’s Greatest Livestock and Sires.” Competition only intensified with the addition of sound to film, first seen in the 1927 film “The Jazz Singer.” That’s entertainment.