On July 6, 1950, the Starland Theatre opened along U.S. Route 52, four miles east of Welch. The drive-in—the first in McDowell County—was the brainchild of Weldon Cook of Man and Robert Livingston Russell Sr. of Bluefield.
When it opened, Starland had speakers for 450 cars and showed six different movies a week. It was right at the beginning of the drive-in craze. By the mid-1950s, West Virginia had 76 drive-ins.
The Starland was geared toward family entertainment, featuring a merry-go-round, children’s train, miniature golf course, playground, and snack bar. In the early years, it was open every day from late March through mid-November. The most popular night of the year was July Fourth, when up to 600 cars would squeeze into the parking area and along U.S. 52 to watch the Starland’s fireworks display.
The drive-in fad began to wane in the 1970s, as televisions and later VCRs took over the entertainment world. Drive-ins began closing in record numbers across the country. McDowell County’s economic troubles—stemming from declining coal employment and falling population—further aggravated the problem. The Starland Theatre closed in 1986.