Carolina Theatre had long, storied history


Though no longer in existence, Sumter's Carolina Theatre had a long and storied history. Research focuses on the showing of the film "Cruisin Down the River," which utilized the beauty queen "Miss Chattahoochee" and a calliope to encourage attendance at this presentation.

South Main Street was inundated with curious spectators venturing out to witness the movie and the additional attractions. The Item conducted interviews and took several photos, which were used to support the event.

The Sumter Daily Item reported in August of 1928 that "the Carolina Theatre, formerly known as the Lyric Theatre, would reopen Aug. 14 and present nothing but the very best first-run motion pictures produced." The plan was to fully renovate and improve the facility in hopes of increasing attendance. The theater was determined to offer "five complete changes of programs each week, offering the finest moving pictures produced, and every feature program was complete with short-reel units, including comedies, news reels, etc."

The Carolina's entry into the entertainment industry of Sumter was short lived, for a fire would destroy the building in November of 1929. The fire was thought to have originated from a stove located in the rear of the building. The fire gutted the building and damaged the offices on the second floor. "The building formerly occupied by the Happiness Store located on North Main Street, between the Men's Shop and the Carolina Theatre, was considerably damaged by water. The Law office of Wendell Levi, located above the theater, was badly damaged by smoke and water and The Citizens Insurance Co. was also damaged, according to owner G.E. Haynsworth."

K.E. Ward, city manager of the theaters in Sumter, announced in October of 1941 that a new theater (Carolina) would open in the building formerly occupied by the American Barber Shop located next to the Western Union building on South Main Street. The front of the building would feature a glass and stucco design while offering an attractive marquee that would be illuminated with the latest in fluorescent lighting. Ward noted that the new theater would have about 450 seats of the latest design. It was expected that the theater would open Jan. 1, 1942.

True to Ward's prediction, the new Carolina theater opened its doors at 11:45 p.m. on New Year's night with a midnight show, "Kitty Foyle," with Ginger Rogers and Dennis Morgan.

In May 1953 The Sumter Daily Item reported that the management of the Carolina Theatre announced that the temporary air-conditioning system was removed and a new installation was added to provide deluxe refrigerated air conditioning for its patrons. This made the Carolina the only theater so equipped. It was announced that many outstanding attractions were scheduled including "Cruisin Down the River," a Columbia Technicolor musical. Attending the opening in Sumter was Miss Doris Haglar, Miss Charlotte, 1953. She was interviewed by The Sumter Daily Item's John Mitchell. Entertainment was provided by Professor Lindsay, who performed a concert on the calliope located in front of the theater for the patrons who attended the feature.

In September of 1967, The Winyah Bay Co., which owned and operated Wesmark Cinema, intended to buy the two downtown movie theaters in Sumter. "Foster McKissick, president of this company, said his firm planned to take over operation of the Sumter Theatre on Oct. 1, and to close the Carolina Theatre on the same day. Thus ended the successful run of the Carolina Theatre, whose former site is now occupied by a scenic park.

Information and photos from The Sumter Item Archives.

Reach Item Archivist Sammy Way at or (803) 774-1294.