Bob Wilson is known for the posters he displays by the street at his home on School Circle. The Herring-Kivette Gallery in Yancey Library is hosting an exhibit of movie posters and other local memorabilia in his collection. The exhibit opens Friday, May 5 and can be viewed during regular library hours.
The Yancey Theatre opened in 1939 with much fanfare and celebration. The theatre operated until 2021 when the building was condemned due to structural and safety issues that plagued the more than 80-year-old local landmark.
North Carolina has a long connection to the film industry that goes back more than a century. The state was so popular with filmmakers that it was even dubbed the Hollywood of the East during the 1930s and into the 1990s.
In fact, one of the first movie productions in the state was filmed in 1915 in Yancey County’s Pensacola community during the logging operation boom days. The first train came to the remote community in 1913, which ushered in two massive timber operations that brought in many workers, a commissary, and new experiences for residents. Pensacola was quickly connected to the outside world in a big way.
As luck would have it, a movie company was filming in WNC and the setting that was chosen didn’t work out. The silent movie, “Then I’ll Come Back to You,” took place in a lumber camp. The booming little “town” of Pensacola with its lumber camps, band mills, rivers, and mountain scenery fit the bill. Movie stars stayed with local families and a number of residents were tapped as extras for the film.
With the making of a silent film in Pensacola, residents were excited to see the film when it was shown in a local church in 1916. The introduction of talkies in the 1920s created even more interest in movies that were shown in the auditorium of the school building.
Mr. Burleson, who owned a theatre in Spruce Pine, traveled to the community on Saturdays, showing movies that always opened with the latest chapter in popular serials. This continued until principal Dawson Briggs grew tired of driving from Burnsville to Pensacola to open the school for the weekend features.
To keep the tradition going, a new location was found for the makeshift theatre in an abandoned store. Seating was created by placing boards across the many nail kegs that were left in the building when the business closed. The movies were shown on a sheetrock board painted white.
The Nail Keg Theatre operated from 1937 to 1944. The construction of a theatre in Burnsville and the fact that many residents left to serve in World War II or work in war production factories in other states ended the movie operation in Pensacola.
However, there was good news on the horizon for movie fans. The first movie theatre was built in the county by local businessmen Reece McIntosh and Guss Peterson in 1939. The theatre was managed for decades by Lum Clevenger for Cherokee Amusements, the other owners over the years.
In the early years of the theatre, movie stars even came to Burnsville to promote their films. In the 1940s through the 1950s, Yancey Theatre also hosted appearances by musicians such as the Carter Family, Ernest Tubb, Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, and many others.
Bob Wilson, who grew up in Pensacola, developed a life-long interest in movies due to the influence of the Nail Keg Theatre. Wilson, now 90, has collected hundreds of movie posters and memorabilia over the years, including a great deal of information and items from the Nail Keg Theatre and the Yancey Theatre.
Wilson kept the interest in the classics alive by hosting the Classic Movie Club at Yancey Theatre that featured gems from the Golden Age of Cinema. The monthly screenings were popular and well-attended by locals and visitors. He also spearheaded a 75th anniversary celebration for the theatre in 2014. The Yancey Theatre had a long and successful run but was forced to close when the building was condemned a couple of years ago due to structural and safety issues. Local residents are hopeful the new owner of the building will rebuild and bring the movies back to Yancey County.
Wilson continues to promote the genre he loves by displaying movie posters from his extensive collection for people to enjoy outside his home on School Circle in Burnsville.
The daily exhibits have created a following by folks anxious to see which movie poster will be displayed next. Walkers often stop to chat with Bob about the posters and he is always happy to provide information about the films and has an endless supply of colorful stories about the impact the early movies in Pensacola, and later in Burnsville, had on him and others.
Early posters for films featured some incredible graphics and many were created over the decades by well-known artists. The history of movies as art shines through when you see these incredible remnants of cinema past and present.
The Herring-Kivette Gallery in Yancey County Public Library is featuring an exhibit of Bob Wilson’s movie posters, local theatre history, and other memorabilia. The free exhibit opens on Friday, May 5, and continues with rotating poster displays in June and July. An official opening reception with remarks by Bob Wilson will be held at a date to be announced.
The library is located at School Circle across from Parkway Playhouse and the Board of Education. The gallery is open during regular library hours, Monday, Wednesday, Friday 9 a.m. -5 p.m.; Tuesday and Thursday 9 a.m. -7 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. -1 p.m.