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Howard Theater, Crab Orchard, KY, has storied past

Built in 1947 the theater looks to have been restored from its outward appearance. It is located in Crab Orchard , Kentucky on Hwy. 39 , the main drag for the town. I was surprised to find that many famous entertainers had performed there including Loretta Lynn, the Osborne Brothers, the father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe, Conway Twitty, Homer Harrison and his trained horse, and Jerry Lee Lewis who stated on CMT that it was one of the roughest places he performed. The youngest act to perform in the theater was country singer John Michael Montgomery at the age of 5. He was booked in the theater by his father, Harold Montgomery. - KENNY BROWNING
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By Kenny Browning, The Feedman

The theater was built in the 1940s.

An acquaintance of mine, Mr. Ramey, spoke with former owner George Bailey before his death last month to get the theater's history.

At the time the building was purchased, Bailey worked for an aircraft company in Louisville. He put $5 down on the building, which cost a total of $2,500. The movie equipment purchased at that time totaled $15,000.


When the theater first opened, movie-goers saw westerns on the weekends and varieties throughout the week. The first movie, which was free, showed in 1946 and was called "A Boy and His Dog." The theater had 293 seats, and there was standing room only.

Patrons could purchase food in brown bags at a sweet shop on the side of the building.

The theater didn't open though without opposition. A local church at the time sent one of its deacons, Hamp Howard, to talk to Bailey in hopes of shutting it down. Howard initially went to fulfill the church's request but ended up walking away from the discussion a silent partner, according to what Bailey told Ramey.

Eventually Bailey sold his half out but continued to show movies. He bought a portable movie projector and showed movies in the fields.

Ramey said Howard was a man ahead of his time. To keep the building cool, he ran pipes under the building from a city well behind the theater.

Movie stars who appeared on the silver screen in the theater included Tim Holt, Lou Knuckles, Lash LaRue, Gabby Hayes, Tom Kidd, and those who were known as side-kicks or features, Fuzzy Q and Buster Crabs.

Not only did the theater show movies but also later had live entertainment. Randy Atcher, a morning show radio host from Louisville known as the singing cowboy, made many appearances. During his on-air show he would say, "The dogs are howlin' in Crab Orchard." The story goes that he was referring to a large dog that would sit in front of the theater and howl whenever he performed.

Others who took the stage to entertain the locals were Loretta Lynn, the Osborne Brothers, the father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe, Conway Twitty, Homer Harrison and his trained horse, and Jerry Lee Lewis who stated on CMT that it was one of the roughest places he performed. The youngest act to perform in the theater was country singer John Michael Montgomery at the age of 5. He was booked in the theater by his father, Harold Montgomery. - Kenny Browning, the Feedman


This story was posted on 2012-07-10 04:00:19
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Scenic Lincoln Co., KY: Howard Theater, Crab Orchard



2012-07-10 - Crab Orchard, Lincoln Co., KY - Photo by Kenny Browning, The Feedman. The Howard Theater, Crab Orchard, KY. Built in 1947 the theater looks to have been restored from its outward appearance. It is located in Crab Orchard, KY on KY 39 , the main drag for the town. I was surprised to find that many famous entertainers had performed there including Loretta Lynn, the Osborne Brothers, the father of Bluegrass Bill Monroe, Conway Twitty, Homer Harrison and his trained horse, and Jerry Lee Lewis who stated on CMT that it was one of the roughest places he performed. The youngest act to perform in the theater was country singer John Michael Montgomery at the age of 5. He was booked in the theater by his father, Harold Montgomery.

by Kenny Browning - The Feedman.Seen in the ColumbiaMagazine group on Flickr.

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