In the early 1900s, most of the towns in Cecil County had a movie theater. These included Rising Sun’s Rising Sun Moving Picture House, North East’s GAR Hall and the North East Theatre, Cecilton’s Cecil, and Elkton’s Armory, New Central Hotel, and Elk Theater.

During the silent movie era, Chesapeake City’s first theater was in the Masonic Hall. According to Ralph Hazel’s online blog, the theater was on the second floor of the building. There was a stage, and the movie screen was set up at the back of the stage. There were no permanent seats, and chairs had to be set up in rows before each show. The hall was “located on the Causeway, across from what is now Pell Gardens. The Hall was razed in the late twenties.”

The first “talkies” were shown in the Rio Theater, a big white building, which was on George Street near the lift bridge that was destroyed in 1942. A deed search completed by historical society volunteer Darlene McCall in 2014 found that in 1901, owner Mary de V. Powell, conveyed 57 parcels in Chesapeake City to her son-in-law George Woolsey Hodge. In 1925, Hodge sold the property to Charles Carroll, who lost the property to foreclosure in 1927. Carroll’s lawyer conveys the property to William Stubbles. In 1931, Mr. Stubbles conveys the land to his wife, Freida Stubbles. In that deed, Parcel No. 2 of the property is referred to as “All that lot or parcel of land in the said Town of Chesapeake City and on the west side of George Street, being known as the “Theater Building” and which was conveyed unto the said William Stubbles….”

The December 5, 1936 edition of the Cecil Democrat contains a small article about the Rio. It seems the theater had undergone some renovation and was getting ready to reopen. It says, “The new Rio Theatre in Chesapeake City will be opened next Friday evening, December 11. The hall has been thoroughly modernized and equipped with the new R.C.A. Fidelity Sound. It is being opened and operated by H.M. Rosen of near Galena. He was formerly associated with R.K.O. and Century Circuit of New York City and has had several years’ experience in the business.

In 1938, a two-year lease was given by William and Freida Stubbles to Henry M. Rosen. The lease states “That the said lessee shall occupy the premises for the purpose only of a Moving Picture Theatre, and for the purpose of installing such equipment and of making such alterations as may be necessary to make the premises ready for occupation and use it as a “Theatre” “The lessee is not to operate any sort, commercial or social upon the second floor at the same time that the “Moving Picture Theatre” is in operation upon the aforesaid floor of the demised premises.”

The Rio operated throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Mr. Hazel, the author of the online blog, describes his memories of the theater and the memories of some local citizens. Mr. Hazel remembers that the film reel would often break and how the crowd would yell and stomp their feet until the reel was replaced. Lee Collins recollects that the theater was a popular attraction on Saturday afternoon. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Hop-a-long Cassidy, the Durango Kid, and Abbott and Costello were big attractions. Collins said admission was around 50 cents, unless you snuck in through the bathroom doors.

In the early 1960s, the decision was made to widen the canal. The land near the Rio Theater was part of the land that the U.S. Government had planned to purchase for that project. The landowner, Freida Stubbles Nichols conveyed part of her property to the United States of America on May 19, 1965. She did not transfer any of the “Theater Building” lot that was originally conveyed to William Stubbles. The Rio Theater was torn down in 1963.

The historical society is open on Mondays and Thursdays from 10 am – 4 pm and the first Saturday of each month from 10 am – 2 pm. There is a $5 research fee for non-members.

Sources: Chesapeake City – The Canal Town Through the Years by Karen T. Morgan and Kevin Titter

Cecil Democrat December 5, 1936

Historical Society of Cecil County deed research by Darlene McCall

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