Built in 1952 in just 3 months and designed by John Lippard and 4 students from the NC State School of Design, the 2,500-seat Daniel Boone Theatre has been described as the best outdoor theatre in the East. These students took 35 acres of rugged Watauga County terrain, including a tree-covered ravine and molded a beautiful outdoor theatre into the natural surroundings.
Keeping in mind the heritage and traditions of the people of Western North Carolina, Lippard and the students designed their stage to fit author Hunter’s play. The theatre’s background also was fashioned to fit the staging directions of the drama, and blend in with the mountain landscape. Native stone is used as a retaining wall around the seating area and stage.
While they were working at their plans, the designers attempted not to disturb the existing vegetation and used native plants in the landscape scheme. Giant rhododendron which formerly grew in the place now occupied by the seating area were moved up the hill to help screen the theatre from the parking lots. Critics who reviewed the play called the theatre “one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful in America” “The theatre alone is worth the price of admission”.
The Department of Landscape Architecture at (NC) State College was approached on the matter of designing the theatre by Samuel Selden, head of the Department of Dramatic art and Kermit Hunter, author of “Horn in the West”, both from UNC Chapel Hill. The author and director impressed on the Department their urgent need of the theatre, whereupon the department assured them of their co-operation and set about to do the job.
Dr. Hunter not only wrote the script for “Horn in the West”, but also forty other historical productions. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he wrote “Unto These Hills” as his Master’s Thesis under Dr. Paul Greene (playwright of “The Lost Colony”). “The Lost Colony” and “Unto These Hills” are the only surviving American outdoor dramas older than “Horn in the West”.
Dr. Hunter had been working on a script titled “Wilderness Road” and when asked to write a script for the Boone area, adapted that one into “Horn in the West.”
Dr. Hunter was an eloquent spokesman for the outdoor drama art form. He was an accomplished musician who attended the Julliard School of Music and often composed the scores for his shows. He was also an accomplished indoor theatre playwright and poet.
Over 1.4 million people have seen Horn in the West since it opened in 1952. We now have the privilege and responsibility of keeping Dr. Hunter’s words alive for generations to come. In 1980, Dr. Hunter gave the rights of the script to the Southern Appalachian Historical Association. Although Dr. Hunter himself tweaked the script more than once, since 1980 there have been several versions of the script performed. As of the 63rd season in 2014, the Board of Directors instructed that the 1961 version of the script, reworked by Dr. Hunter, would be the basis of the show. That version is known as the “Judge Henderson” script, because it introduced the historical figure of Judge Richard Henderson, who hired Daniel Boone to survey the land of Kentucky and negotiate with the Cherokee for the purchase of the area. Taking their cue from this, the Board allowed that script to be corrected for more historical accuracy, and to tweak the slightly stilted and stereotypical speech patterns that Dr. Hunter had imposed on the characters, making the whole of the play more palatable to a 21st century sensibility.
Glenn Causey began performing in the Drama on its opening night in 1952. From 1956 until 1996 (41 seasons) he played the character of Daniel Boone without missing a single performance. His image became the basis for many depictions of Daniel Boone still seen in the area today, including the painting displayed in the Daniel Boone exhibit in the museum at Grandfather Mountain.
On Thursday, July 6, 2000, the Horn in the West family lost a well-loved and much respected member with the passing of Glenn Causey.
On April the 11th, 2001, Dr. Kermit Hunter passed away in Dallas, Texas.
The Daniel Boone Theatre and Horn in the West grounds continue to serve the High Country in various ways as time goes by. Southern Appalachian Historical Association, Hickory Ridge Homestead Museum, and The Watauga County Farmers Market, now consider these grounds “home”. The Daniel Boone Native Gardens are also on the grounds of the Daniel Boone Park, and are a great example of the care used in preserving the natural plant life. The Gardens are an impressive display of the native flora of the Appalachian region and provide a must-see collection of mature regional plants and landscaping.
For more information, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at (828) 264-2120.