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The Rappanna Theatre of Urbanna, Virginia

Growing up in Urbanna, Virginia in the early 30s was a happening time with many things to do, including watching a film at the Rappanna Theatre located on the Main Street of the town (now known as Old Virginia Street).

Looking at the street today, this building would have been nestled between the buildings that house the Virginia ABC Store & Something Different Restaurant.

The Rappanna Theatre originally opened its doors in October of 1931, and had enough seating for over 200 people.

When the original building burned down in 1949, it was replaced with a new building that could hold even more with balcony & orchestra seating.

The Rappanna remained open up until the early 1980s.

Three of the Rappana Theatre’s seats can be found at the museum.

Do you remember watching a feature film in the old Rappanna Theatre? Send us your stories and the first film you remember seeing there!

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Russell Francis

                  CHAPTER 29


  Sometimes, the kids were just rivered out and sometimes needed a break from the water and the cottage, even on a nice day. More than likely, the adults needed a break from us. An outing trip to Urbanna was usually planned for the kids during the day by the adults in the family, and Nanny usually would want to go shopping!

  Urbanna was the closest town, about ten miles away. It is a small riverfront town with things in it that would make a day for a kid: Rappanna Theatre located on the Main Street of the town, five and dime store, Marshals Drug Store, Bristow’s General Store, where you could look at or buy just about anything you could think of at that time. There were many other small shops and places to eat, streets that you couldn’t get lost on because there were only three and not very long. Rappahannock Street, Cross Street, and Virginia Street were the main roads to the oyster house and the waterfront.

  The oyster house was always good for a couple of hours watching the heavily tanned, rough-faced watermen who would unload their boats of the day’s catch. It was always exciting to sit on the dock piling and watch the watermen manage the different sea creatures, oysters, blue crabs, and even sharks, which were unloaded off these boats and placed in bushel baskets or wooden crates on the packinghouse dock by the river.

  Once the arrangements were laid out, the kids were given 75 cents each and told to spend it wisely; “You’re not going to get anymore,” Nanny would say. We would all pile into her Cadillac and be driven to Urbanna for the afternoon and evening. The drives to Urbanna on the backcountry roads were just as exciting; we were looking forward to arriving in the town and riding in a Cadillac. We would pass a small, wood-frame abandoned church with the windows boarded with boards that formed the letter Z. We promptly named the church “The Zorro Church.” Then, we would start to smell the pickle factory, which was located on the outskirts of the town. Once we passed the pickle factory, we would stop at a hamburger drive-in diner for food and ice cream, a Nannies treat. There was always a poster and paper flyer showing what was playing at the movie theater posted in the drive-in window to help us plan what movie we would see. On this night, it was going to be “The Blob”; the ad said it was about a space monster that would eat anything it encountered, including people! Now, folks, the older cousins thought this was an incredible must-see film, fantastic! I was a little kid of 6 years old and knew if I went in that theater, I would be eaten by “THE BLOB!” I wasn’t going in!

  The day had been good; I didn’t want to worry about being eaten by “THE BLOB,” so I hung out with Nanny. We walked around the town, stopping at all the stores, including the FIVE and DIME Store, where I bought a couple of toys to enjoy. The shopping was done; the older cousins were dropped off at the Rappanna Theatre and were to be picked up after the movie. Nanny and I headed back to the cottage. I enjoyed the evening playing with my newly bought toys and still had 30 cents in my pocket. Later that night, when all the cousins had returned to the cottage, I was relieved, knowing “THE BLOB” had eaten none of them!

River Summers Stories From the Rappahannock
Russell Francis 2006

Russell Francis



   There was too much to do at the river to worry about TV. Excitement and adventures were around every foot of the area. That is how we entertained ourselves; on top of that, we could not get a TV signal! The only airwave entertainment was the radio, and even with that, the closest radio station we could pick up during the day was in Salisbury, Maryland. There was not much music, but we learned much from the farm – chicken report broadcast every time the radio was turned on. If you wanted to hear the radio, you had to listen to the good and the bad. I will never forget a solid weeklong AM radio broadcast of “THE DELMARVA CHICKEN FESTIVAL!” Nighttime radio was a little better, but not local; the music was good, and it was always fun tuning in stations from all over the United States and the world. Sometimes, you could not understand the radio in a foreign language, but it was entertaining.

   The whole family had come to the river for a week or two one summer. Older cousins, younger cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents gathered at the cottage in one spot. The week’s weather started sunny and warm, and then a Nor’easter dropped by and turned our weather chilly, rainy, and windy; it was not a good time to be at the river, but we were all there to make the best of it. We were all doing what we could to amuse ourselves, reading comic books, playing board games, and listening to how wet and windy it was at “THE CHICKEN FESTIVAL” on the radio.

   Everyone was getting a little “EDGY!” We had run out of comic books to read, and the card games were tiring. Mr. Jones was not available for storytelling, and the aunts and uncles were also getting a little cranky, and this was just in the morning! Everyone unanimously voted that a run to Urbanna be in order. It was Saturday, and The Rappanna Theatre ran movies all day long. We were ready to go to the movie matinee, and our parents were prepared for us to go. Cartoons and westerns were playing, just what we needed. 75 cents pocket money was dolled out by our parents for our day in town. We were driven to town and dropped off at the Hamburger drive-in, which was just a short distance from the theater; we looked at the schedule hanging on the wall and found that the movie started in fifteen minutes, and we were on time.

   We walked down the street looking at all the sites we thought were kid-interesting. The 5 & 10 store would definitely get a quick stop and look-over before we continued our journey to the theater. When we arrived at The Rappanna Theatre, we got our popcorn and a drink and settled back for many hours, eating popcorn and watching cartoons, westerns, and previews most of the day. All had A good time on this wet day in the small Town of Urbanna. When the prearranged pick-up time arrived, we got up, got a refill on popcorn, and went out the lobby door. Nannie’s Cadillac was at the front, waiting for us to come out. We piled in, trying to hold on to our popcorn, which spilled on the floorboard and were on our way, returning to the cottage.

   When we got back, one of the cousins came up with a great idea. “Let’s do a TV program skit with commercials tonight; it will be fun,” and we did that! We would entertain the adults for giving us a great day out in town. We all sat around a circle, planned that night’s entertainment from the start to the finish, and included the commercials. We were creative on the commercial but stuck with a much-modified version of the tried and true TV western “RAWHIDE” for the main program. We all knew the songs and had our cowboy hats with us, so it made it easy for props and not much rehearsing.

   The adults were even having fun listening to us put the program together behind closed doors; we didn’t want to give any of the plots away! Nevertheless, it did not matter they were going to have a good night of entertainment from their creative kids. All the planning was done; a script was laid out of who was doing what. Even Tramp the Dog had a part, playing a cow, and he was in most of the commercials.

   The cottage’s main room was turned into a stage; chairs were circled around the room. The props and “Actors” were in the back bedroom, and everyone was getting ready for the big show. Finally, the time had come. It was showtime! All the adults were ushered to their seats, and the lights were turned out, except for a flashlight, to keep us from tripping over each other. Lights were turned on, and then out of the back room we came, singing the theme from “RAWHIDE,” “ROLLING, ROLLING, ROLLING, KEEP THEM DOGGIES MOVING,” you know how it goes! Anyway, then it was a commercial break.

   We had a flea spray commercial with Tramp; he was the perfect actor for this one. He had fleas, and we already had his flea spray. Then, after the commercial, the main plot was laid out in the story. Tramp, our actor “Cow,” was stolen by a cow rustler and taken to the “Bad Lands.” Then, it was time for another commercial; we all knew about “Bactine,” the cure for everything that bit or stung you, and even take care of that case of poison oak. The show again started, continuing on the stolen “Cow” plot. The commercials constantly interrupted the next part of the storyline; we had to keep the adults on the edge of their seats!

   We did Coke, Bay Rum, Aspirin, and even Alka-Seltzer commercials for the adults who sometimes woke up the next day with a lousy hang-over, uh, headache!

   The ending came with the “Cow “being rescued by the “RAWHIDE” cowboy and returned to the little old lady who owned him, “THE END,” except for another commercial! The adults clapped and hooted, so we knew it was a good show. Dad had popped a big kettle of popcorn for the after-show party, and we all had a good time. Tramp got the prestigious “Golden Oyster Award” for his portrayal of “COW.”

   The next day, the sun came out, dried and warmed up everything, and off to the beach we all went, walking down the road, singing the theme from “RAWHIDE!”

River Summers Stories From the Rappahannock
Russell Francis 2006

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