As one of only a handful of performing arts theaters in Lower Delaware, the Milton Theater puts on quite a range of shows. On any given night, the main stage may host ballet, big bands, drag shows, tribute bands, stand-up comedy, burlesque dancers, or psychics. For a building that has not only served as a movie theater, fire station, and basketball court, but survived nor’easters, fires, and pandemics, it’s only fitting that this century-old building continue a legacy of enduring creative expression.
Built in 1914, the Milton was first known as the Fox Theater, after owner Ida Fox, one of the first female theater managers in the state. It opened as an Art Deco movie house, running first silent films and later “talkies” before opening its doors to live country music westerners as well.
While the theater was a popular downtown attraction, it changed hands several times across the decades. At one point or another, the building housed the nascent Milton Fire Department; accommodated basketball courts for use by Milton-area high school teams; and held fundraisers during World War II selling bonds and stamps. In the late 1930s, the building returned to a 400-person theater with acoustic and visual elements that bested many larger theaters of the day.his
Despite its ties to the fire department, the building suffered damage from fires in 1938 and 1952 as well as decades of nor’easters to which the Delmarva peninsula is no stranger. However, it was the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962—the most destructive storm to ever visit the mid-Atlantic—that shuttered the theater. In keeping with its motley history, a restaurant operated out of one portion of the building, but for 30 years, the curtains remained closed.
A handful of restoration efforts sprang up in the early years of the 21st century, with hundreds of thousands of dollars raised to repair damages sustained from the 1962 storm. Momentum proved elusive until 2014, when a middle-aged Milton couple purchased the building and leased it to a local theater runner. The newly-named Milton Theater has since enjoyed massive success, and now hosts 60,000 guests annually in a town of just over 4,000 people.
Know Before You Go
Their vast array of shows run year-round, but for summer visits, check out their outdoor concert series Quayside@Nite for live music on the lawn by the Broadkill River.