Highway 18 Outdoor Theater

Highway 18 and Highway 89,
Jefferson, WI 53549

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LouRugani on March 1, 2024 at 11:33 pm

The Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre in Jefferson County may not open after this upcoming season. The theater was built in 1953 and is now one of the last drive-in movie theaters in Southeast Wisconsin. After more than 70 years in the business, the theater is for sale. Lee Burgess is the theater’s owner. He has been operating the business for 25 years. He told 12 News it is time to say goodbye. “I’m at the point now, I’m in my 70s,” Burgess said. Nobody in my family wants to take over the business. I’m not going to live forever, it’s time to begin the process of turning it over.“ Burgess said his love for drive-in theaters reaches all the way back into his childhood. He said to him, they represent freedom. "It’s just a sense of freedom, where you can sit there in nice, open skies,” Burgess said. “The stars are above and this huge screen with a movie running, and you can let your kids run around and yell and scream.” Burgess explained the main issue drive-in theaters face is the small window of time they are open. He said theaters are a seasonal business in Wisconsin. The Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre is open only three or four months of the year, and they only show one movie per night. Burgess said he plans to operate the theater for one more season. He said he hopes someone is willing to revamp the theater, but might have to sell to a completely different sector. “I’ve told my broker that if someone wants to purchase this theater, I will make myself available to help them out, give them advice, repair the projectors, whatever they need to go forward at no charge,” Burgess said. Burgess asks anyone who can to go see a movie at a drive-in. “Support your local drive-ins,” Burgess said. “There’s not very many of us left.” (©2024, Hearst Television Inc. on behalf of WISN-TV.)

familymanx on July 3, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Discriminated against my jeep compass. They made us park in back with two or three empty rows in front of us. I tried to move and explained to them my jeep is as low as the cars next to me but refused to let me stay or talk to the manager. Toilet didn’t work and someone left a floater. The bathrooms were dirty. The concession cashier was really rude. Popcorn was burnt and did not offer free refills on anything. $1.75 refill for a large $4.50 drink. It was a BAD BAD experience. They are selling the drive-in idea…not the quality.

Trolleyguy on April 30, 2011 at 7:31 am

This theater has now gone digital.

A lot more is involved than installing new equipment. To prevent dust intrusion, the projection booth had to be sealed and air-conditioned.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on September 26, 2010 at 7:11 pm

It parked 500 cars and was owned by Walter Baier.In 1956.

Silicon Sam
Silicon Sam on September 25, 2010 at 11:36 pm

Video Tour of the Highway 18 drive-in movie theater. Very informative!


LouisRugani on August 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm

October 25, 1968)
Sprague Theater Sold at Elkhorn

ELKHORN – Dan Kelliher, owner and operator of Sprague Theatre here for the past 46 years, has sold the business to James K. Anderson, Whitewater. Possession will be given Nov. 1. Anderson is a part owner of the Strand Theater in Whitewater, the Fort Theater in Fort Atkinson and the Highway 18 Outdoor Theater near Jefferson. He managed the Strand Theater for eight years.
A former cashier of the First Citizens State Bank of Whitewater, Anderson is now in the investment business. He will manage the theater here but does not plan to move to Elkhorn. He has a summer home at Lauderdale Lakes.
Kelliher purchased the former Princess Theater here in 1922 and has presented the Elkhorn movies for 46 of the 58 years they have been shown.
Mr. and Mrs. Kelliher were originally from Mt. Horeb.
The present Sprague Theater was completed in 1928. The first “talking picture” was shown in 1929. During various portions of his business career Kelliher also leased or owned theaters at Lake Geneva, East Troy, Burlington and Delavan.

MrDriveIn on December 3, 2008 at 2:31 pm

Any comments or questions regarding any drive-in theater in Wisconsin, please check out my website at
www.drive-inthruwisconsin.com There you will find photos, original newspaper ads and a whole lot more. Or contact me at I will give you complete and accurate information about Wisconsin drive-in theaters, just ask. Thanks, Charles Bruss