The Swan’s Rich History
The Swan is one of four drive-in theaters in the state of Georgia that is still operating. The locations of the other three are Atlanta, Jessup, and Tiger, Georgia. It is operated by Steve A. Setser.
History of the Swan Drive In Theatre
In 1949, Jack Jones, Sr., Berinice Kiker Tilley, and W.H. Tilley, Jr. (known as "H" Tilley) purchased the Rialto and Royal theaters in Blue Ridge, Ga. from Willard and Betty Mowbray. Shortly after the purchase, Bernice sold her interest to Jack and "H." The Rialto Theatre had been built in 1946 and 1947, and shortly after it was completed, the old Royal Theatre was closed, and movies were shown only at the new Rialto. Mr. Mowbray had come to Blue Ridge in the late twenties or early thirties and had started showing movies in the brick building located on West Main Street where the fire department is now located. Mowbray showed movies in this building until he built the Royal Theatre on East Main Street. This theater was small and could only seat around 200 people. As the area grew, the seating capacity became too small, and the new Rialto was built that could seat 500 people. The Rialto was built on East Main Street on the same block the old Royal Theatre was located. At the time, Jack and "H" purchased the theaters, the Royal had been closed, and only the Rialto was in operation. There was no television in Blue Ridge at this time, and the movie-going crowd was so large that they opened the Royal Theatre again and showed movies at both places. The price of a ticket was .32 for adults and .15 for children. At the Saturday matinees, adult tickets were .25 and .10 for children.
In 1955 Jack and "H" built the Swan Drive In Theatre that is located on 651 Summit Street, Blue Ridge, Ga. Building this drive-in was a real challenge. Locating a piece of property large enough that was suitable for a drive-in theater would turn into a big problem. The first property purchased for the drive-in was on E. First Street where Blue Ridge Supply and several other buildings are now located. They would be forced to build a tall fence on the street side of this property to keep the car lights from shining on the screen and they were advised by engineers that the property was not suitable.
The city Of Blue Ridge owned a large area of property known as the Willingham Circle, and they were able to lease several acres from the city on which to build a drive-in theater. The property they leased had large gullies, hills, and valleys that had to be graded. The grading was much more than expected, and several times, they almost gave up. They considered quitting as it was such a large job. After they started the grading, they hit a slate rock, and dynamite was the only thing that could move it. The grading was done by Mr. Raleigh Hembree, a local man that was an expert in his work who encouraged them to keep on trying.
After the land was graded, wired for the speakers, paved, and the concession stand and the box office were built, there was another LARGE problem. The screen tower would have to be built on the ground and then raised in parts. There was not a crane any nearer than Atlanta that was big and tall enough to lift the screen tower. A crane large enough to lift it was found at Atlanta Steel Erectors. Many of the construction workers and “lookers-on" held their breath as this job was completed. The cost of the crane was one hundred dollars. This drive-in theater was the beginning of the real growth of Blue Ridge. People came from miles around to see movies on a large screen.
Why the Drive-In Theater Was Named SWAN
During World War II, Mr. Tilley was stationed in England for part of the time before being sent into The Omaha Beach Landing in the Normandy Invasion. While in England, he admired the swans swimming on the lakes and ponds. They were so beautiful and peaceful. He suggested the name "Swan" for the new drive-in. Mr. Jones also liked the name as it was short and would be easy to use a neon sign with. This is why the drive-in was named "SWAN." Mr. Jones served in the Marines before World War II. During the first part of World War II, he was stationed in Panama, helping build an air force base. Next, he helped in the construction of an air force base in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Jack Jones Sr. and W.H. Tilley, Jr. operated these theaters until 1959 when Mr. Tilley sold to Mr. Jones. The Swan Drive-In is still operating and is one of four remaining drive-in theaters in the state of Georgia. The old Royal Theatre is still standing on East Main St., Blue Ridge, Ga. and has been converted into doctors’ offices. The Rialto Theatre was partially burned in 1963 and has been rebuilt as a retail store.
The history page was written by Blanch Tilley and approved by Mrs. Jack Jones.
Jack Jones, Sr. passed away in 1980.
Mrs. Jack E. Jones passed away on Dec. 6th, 2010.
W. H. Tilley passed away on January 17th, 2011.