Serving as a piece of living history is the Mansfield-Drive In, one of the last remaining drive-in movie theatres in Connecticut and in the United States.
A couple of summers ago, I visited the Mansfield Drive-In, enticed by both the prospect of enjoying a new experience and the fact of watching two movies for the price of one.
While some stayed in their vehicles like me and my girlfriend, others brought fold-up chairs or opened the back of their SUV’s or vans and enjoyed the fresh night air.
Make sure you bring a blanket because it usually gets cool at night, even on a hot and humid summer’s day.
Many of the people I have seen at the drive-in have just come from the beach or local park adorned with fresh sunburns, shorts and short sleeve shirts, and some still in their swimming trunks with a large shirt over top.
I was expecting many of the customers to be couples but in reality, the customer base varies and there were many families of children of all ages there enjoying a piece of nostalgia.
It seems that the drive-in theater gets to be the best place to go when temperatures warm up, usually happening at the same time when the college semesters of nearby Eastern Connecticut State University and the University of Connecticut are over.
There is usually at least one screen playing family-friendly movies.
A small wooden building greets visitors with a letter marquee board in either direction on Route 32, not far from the Route 6 Expressway and downtown Willimantic.
Further up there is a roofed drive-thru box office structure appearing eerily similar to the old toll booths that used to exist on Connecticut highways.
You pay here and receive a “Mansfield Drive-In” ticket stub, a souvenir you may want to keep a hold of to remind you of your experience.
The theatre features three large 110 foot wide screens and there are three FM frequencies one can tune to so they can listen to the movie with the same quality as modern radios with stereo and controllable bass and treble.
I would recommend bringing a portable radio in case you decide to sit outside or if your car battery dies from it being on too long.
While large vehicles over 5 feet are required to park in the back near yellow poles, it is first come first serve parking with movies starting at sunset.
The drive-in theatre has a capacity of 950 cars and originally opened in 1954.
No pets are allowed and the speed limit throughout the drive-in property is 10 miles per hour.
In order to get a good spot, I would advise getting there early and those who do can bring their children to a playground located in the center of the field near a grove of trees.
The playground closes at dusk and is not far from the snack bar building.
The box office opens at 7:10 p.m. and the snack bar opens at 7:15 p.m.
The snack bar features burgers, fries, soda, popcorn, candy, ice cream, and even convenience store items that may come in handy such as insect repellant and headache pills.
Clean, though antiquated, restrooms are located in the snack bar building.
Movies usually start around 8 p.m. with the typical previews preceding the movie.
There is a five to ten minute intermission between 9:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. depending on the length of the movie allowing people to walk up and get additional snacks at the snack bar.
If you do this, make sure you leave when the credits start rolling because the line tends to get long and you don’t want to miss the next movie!
The intermission also allows people to drive between one screen to another which I have observed several people doing.
During the intermission time, you can see the ever popular dancing popcorn singing the song “Let’s all go to the lobby and get ourselves a snack”.
Intermission is a good time to rid your car of trash from your refreshments since garbage cans are scarce at the drive-in except for the ones near the snack bar and in the restrooms.
I have also seen some who have either come to the drive-thru for the early movie or just the late movie.
There is no sign or policy against doing this but you may want to check out the lengths of the movies to prevent missing the beginning of the movie you want to watch.
Make sure you turn off your headlights after you park your car so others can enjoy the movie.
If you stay for both movies, realize that you will be there until about 11 or 11:30 p.m. and since all three movies usually get out about the same time, you may want to just sit back in your car and wait it out to avoid the traffic jam.
Going to the drive-in theatre is a great way to enjoy a summer’s night and for the complete experience, make sure you go on Friday night after dinner.
Just make sure you don’t fill up on dinner so there is plenty of room for ice cream!
No matter what movie you are watching, you must drive back the same way you came in but the entire road around the theatre is one way.
There is a blinking light into the drive-thru theatre though it usually is never turned on to the red-yellow-green cycle making it difficult to make left-hand turns since there is traffic coming from Route 32 and Route 31, whose intersection is only a few hundred feet away.
Usually the first movies shown in the evening are the newer movies with an older movie, still in theatres, shown afterwards.
The drive-in theatre usually opens for the season in April with movies on the weekends and daily movies start on Memorial Day.
Daily movies usually end around Labor Day with the theatre closing for the season around Columbus Day.
Usually severe rain and thunderstorms will cancel the movie but they can show movies if there is just light rain depending on the weather forecast.
If the drive-in theatre does open for the evening, be aware that tickets are non-refundable and don’t forget to equip your vehicle with an umbrella just in case there is that occasional summer’s night rain shower.
Each adult 12 and over is charged $9 at the drive-in with children between 4-11 charged $5 and no charge for children ages 4 and under.
Wednesday night is carload night and this means you should bring all your friends and family members to get in for only $18.
Of course, this is only a deal if there are more than two of you, but with the size of SUV’s these days, you could fit half of an army in some so for those folks this would be a great deal especially if you want to bring the little league team or basketball team.
Mansfield Drive-In is one of the surviving drive-in theatres in Connecticut with the only other drive-in theatre in the state being the Pleasant Valley Drive-In in between New Hartford and Winsted in Litchfield County.
That drive-in is located on County Route 181 and is a two-screen theatre with double features.
Every Sunday, the Mansfield Drive-In transforms into the Mansfield Marketplace, largest indoor/outdoor flea market facility from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The marketplace is open from late March thru Christmas and is open both indoors and outdoors rain, shine, or snow.
Public parking is available between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. for $2 and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for $1.
The drive-in theatre is located half-way between Eastern Connecticut State University in Willimantic and the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs.
It is located on Route 32, not far from the Willimantic Plaza, anchored by Ocean State Job Lot and BJ’s Wholesale Club.
There are exits for Route 32 off Interstate 84, the Route 6 “Willimantic” Expressway, Route 2, and Interstate 395.