A Look Back
Wayside Theatre is one of the oldest professional theatres in Virginia. The company itself goes back over fifty years, and the piece of land on which our theatre sits has hundreds of years of recorded history.
History of the Theatre Company
The company was born in 1962 as the Maralarrick Players. A year later, Leo Bernstein, a Washington DC-based financier and real estate developer, bought the theatre building and changed the name to Wayside Theatre. He hired Owen Phillips, then artistic director of the Barter Theatre, as the Wayside's first artistic director and in 1963 the theatre began employing professional actors through Actors' Equity Association. In 1966, Wayside Theatre was incorporated as Wayside Foundation for the Arts, an independent non-profit organization with a Board of Directors from surrounding communities.
Our current Artistic Director, Warner Crocker, succeeds Christopher Owens, who led the company's growth from a 10-week summer stock company to a seven-month regional theatre. Intriguingly enough, Mr. Crocker's first acting class was taught by Mr. Owens' predecessor as artistic director, Ed Steele.
The artists appearing come from around the country, from New York, Chicago, Washington DC, Atlanta and beyond. Many of them award winners, they bring extensive theatre, film and television credits to their work with us. Each season they, like their predecessors, travel here, to the northern Shenandoah Valley, to reside, work and craft a season of theatrical experiences for our audience.
Famous Contributors to Wayside
History of the Building & Lot 5
The site that houses the Wayside Theatre has had its share of colorful history. Earliest recorded deeds list the first transfer of the property on October 2, 1797 to John and Elizabeth Campbell. They in turn deeded the property to a Charlotte and Francis T. Mastin in 1804 who continued the store and a tavern, operations most likely started by the Campbells. The property changed hands often in the early 1800's, eventually ending up in the hands of Jacob Hoffman. When Hoffman sold the lot in 1840, it was completed as two different transactions, essentially subdividing the lot.
The half sold to Thomas Sperry was referred to as the Storehouse and the other half was sold to Baylis Grigsby as the tavern house, stables and icehouse. In 1842 the Sperry's conveyed the storehouse lot to David S. Danner to resolve financial difficulties. In 1846 bad debts surfaced for Mr. Grigsby and a special commissioner conveyed the tavern property to David Danner's younger brother, Jacob. The older Danner brother also ran into bad financial times and sold his share of the original Lot 5 to his younger brother Jacob later that year, reuniting the original property under one owner again.
Jacob Danner operated a store and tavern on the property for the rest of his life and The Danner Hotel is frequently mentioned in references about the area. When the property was disposed of as a part of Danner's estate in 1882, it was again divided into two parcels. The Storehouse was conveyed to Danner's son-in-law David Harris, and the "old Hotel" to local businessman William H. Dinges. The Storehouse property remained in the Harris family until it was deeded to the Middletown Fire Company in 1947, six years after the 1941 fire that destroyed the building. The oldest section of the current volunteer fire department is now on this section of the lot.
Prior to selling the "old Hotel" property in 1903 to Albert F. Saum, Dinges rented it to G. W. Hoenshel, who operated The Shenandoah Normal College. The Saum's sold the property to H. C. Borden in 1906, who rented the building out until the fire in 1941 that destroyed the building. During this period the building housed a variety of tenants, including the Town Hall and jail, a general store, a local barbershop and other businesses. After the fire, Mr. Borden built the Middletown Movie Theater in 1946, selling it to Leo Bernstein of the Wayside Inn in 1962, when it became the home of the Wayside Theatre.
The Gas Light on the northeast corner of the building was recently donated to the town of Middletown by Shenandoah Gas in honor of Mr. Borden, the area's first natural gas customer.-Compiled from "The First Tavern" by Mr. Greg Jones, Annandale, VA.