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Simsbury Goes to the Movies

Those who lived in Simsbury some scant ten years ago can remember when going to the movies meant a long drive out of town to Hartford, East Hartford, Enfield or even West Springfield, Massachusetts. Then multiplex theaters came to East Windsor and Bloomfield. Parents of newly licensed teenagers relaxed as trips to the movies with friends no longer involved the interstate highway system. Now the local cinema is just down at the corner of Bushy Hill Road and Route 44 it is hard to remember the “suffering” to go to the movies.

As an offshoot from the Society’s oral history project Voices of Simsbury, two remarkable men returned to Simsbury to tell their stories. Lifelong friends, Ray Joyce and Don Andrus spent several hours on a sultry summer day talking about their childhoods and telling their story of Simsbury with humor and emotion. Mr. Andrus’ father was a local barber whose shop was located on Hopmeadow Street just south of today’s Vincent Sporting Goods. There, the men of Simsbury came for a haircut and a shave using their owned gold lettered shaving mugs. But it was Mr. Joyce’s father’s occupation that seemed so unusual. He brought the movies to Simsbury. He was a projectionist.

Less a year after an influenza epidemic had turned the Casino, a community hall and dance pavilion, into a hospital, Mr. Raymond Joyce of Unionville contracted with the town to show movies there. His first photoplay in May 1919 was the silent film, “Tess of the Storm Country,” starring Mary Pickford. Until 1931 when the Casino was demolished to build Eno Memorial Hall only “silents” were shown with a musical accompanist.

During this time, Mr. Joyce also showed movies in Tariffville and Avon. His family came to live on Seminary Street and there his son met his life long friend, Don Andrus. The price for the movies until the 1940’s was, according to the junior Ray Joyce, 35 cents for adults and 25 cents for children. Starting in 1926 Mr. Joyce brought the movies to Westminster School and charged $25.00 to $35.00 per show. What that averaged out to per student is unknown. An additional source of income for him was the advertising slides that flashed local advertisements on the screen. They cost 25 cents per flash per night.

While Eno Memorial Hall was under construction, Mr. Joyce showed his films at the Simsbury High School now the Belden Town Offices. By this time talkies were the rage and also a headache for the projectionist. Sound was not a track imbedded in the film but came as a disk which was played like a record and led to sometimes amusing consequences when the vibration of a passing train (and yes Simsbury had quite a few) caused the needle to skip and men utter soprano speeches while delicate women spoke in gruff baritones.

More exciting than the unsynchronized sound was the flammable and explosive quality of the silver nitrate film. (Storage today of this highly dangerous film is in special freezers.) Using a portable booth made of asbestos to keep any fire or explosion contained, he would project the film onto a screen several nights each week.

The opening of the Eno Memorial Hall on Decoration Day (as Memorial Day used to be called) was cause for celebration by the residents of Simsbury. Built using a gift from Antoinette Eno Wood, this neo-classical building was dedicated by her family and friends. The highlight of the day may have been the Will Rogers picture shown using the latest sound technology by Western Electric from the fireproof projection booth.

The building was dedicated in the midst of the Depression. Not many had the luxury of spending 35 cents on the movies and this was a grim time for most. Mr. Joyce recalled his father saying that all he had to do was show a Shirley Temple film to fill the auditorium. Many days a crowd of young boys gathered to help Mr. Joyce bring in the big billboard that stood out on Hopmeadow Street. Legend has it that Mr. Joyce would let any boy who helped carry in the sign come see the show for free. It often took as many as eleven boys to move that sign. To lure adults to the movies there were often giveaways of dishes and glasses.

To advertise the coming movies to Simsbury, Mr. Joyce would send out programs for a month’s worth of films. It was his son’s job to cut and fold the programs so they could be mailed and often Don Andrus helped. Musicals and westerns lured residents to the Eno on weekends for 7:30 PM shows and 2:30 PM matinees.

Getting the films required meeting the train or driving to Hartford to pick them up. Mr. Joyce remembers the custodians of the Eno, Pearl Rust and Frank Soule who collected tickets on movie nights. Joe Gagnon, stationmaster for Simsbury, received the films. And of course the police helped keep order including Chief Austin and Ed Fellows.

Movies at the Eno finally died out after the 1950s when Mr. Joyce sold his business. Hometown entertainment soon consisted of television. For those fortunate enough to grow up with movies each week at the Eno, the pictures were an escape from the daily grind and a chance to socialize with their fellow townspeople over a new feature each week.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Simsbury Historical Society
800 Hopmeadow Street
Simsbury, CT 06070
860-658-2500
info@simsburyhistory.org