History of the Ruffin Theater, Covington, TN



The story of The Historic Ruffin Theater really begins with the Palace Theater, which was built in, or before, 1909. On December 11, 1924, a newspaper article mentions the owner of the Palace Theater, Mr. J. H. Paine thanking the public for 15 years of patronage. The article was about how Mr. Paine had sold the movie theater to Mr. L.L. Lewis, an experience theater owner, who had moved to Covington from Walnut Ridge, Arkansas.

Mr. Lewis remodeled the entire building into luxurious theater. The remodeled Palace Theater had a beautiful lobby, a balcony, a fifteen by forty-eight-foot stage, a twelve by fourteen-foot modern screen, and an elevated floor for better viewing by the audience.

On June 3, 1927, Mr. Lewis sold the Palace Theater to Mr. William F. Ruffin. Mr. Ruffin owned the Ruffin Amusement Company. It was in 1927, after the purchase of the Palace, he extend his company out of Tipton County. During this time, he made plans to remodel the Palace Theater.

Remodeling of the Palace Theater began June 24, 1934. Mr. Ruffin intended the theater to be one of West Tennessee most modern playhouses. He expanded the theater 23 feet, put in a larger screen, and many other features. One and a half years later misfortune struck. January 29, 1936, The Palace Theater burned down, leaving a blackened brick exterior, some of which remain today. It is said that the only thing that survived the fire was the popcorn machine.

On February 13, 1936, Mr. Ruffin announced that he would rebuild the theater on the same site , and it would be bigger, better, and very modern. He hired the Speight & Hibbs Co., as architect/builder, used local labor to do the actual work. Art Deco, which was popular from 1920-1939, was chosen for the design of the theater.

The best things were installed in the new theater. The best sound and projection equipment by Western Electric, the latest model of General Electric air-conditioning system, the best in heating systems, and bigger stage and screen. It had the finest quality carpet, a bigger stage and screen, and new seating. Per the floor plan found on the door of the ticket booth, there were 640 seats. The new theater was the most modern, luxurious playhouse in West Tennessee. It was christened The Ruffin Theater.

Friday, July 24, 1936, The Ruffin Theater opened with the showing of Earthworm Tractors starring Joe E. Brown, and Bullets or Ballots staring Edward G. Robertson. There were three shows daily, 3:00, 7:00, and 9:00. The ticket price was twenty-five cents for adults, and ten cents for children up to 12 years old.

The Ruffin not only showed movies, it also had live performances. March 16, 1955, Elvis Presley appeared on the Ruffin stage in a "small time Grand Ole Opry" type of show.

The Ruffin Theater closed about the mid-1970s, and remained dormant for years. In 1979 the Covington Little Theater reorganized as a corporation under the name of the Tipton Fine Arts council. In 1979 Billy Ruffin, son of the original loner offered the building to the Tipton Fine Arts Council on a 3 year lease with the option to buy. The first TFAC play at the theatre was Brigadoon in 1980. At the end of the lease, the building was purchased for the price of $60,000 dollars.

The building had fallen into disrepair, but the Tipton Fine Arts Council (later the Tipton Arts Council) set to work to renovate it. Their purpose was to make the Ruffin into a performing arts theater for Tipton County. In 1992, The Ruffin Theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places as #92000248.

Through the years, restoration was done to the Ruffin, but being a non-profit organization, Tipton Arts Council did the best they could with what money was received. In 2009, a new section was added to the Ruffin. It has modern handicapped accessible restrooms, a handicapped entrance, and a storage area upstairs for props and costumes. In the last few years the Ruffin's lobby has been painted, a new carpet laid, a new sound system installed, and in the spring of 2016, new seating replaced the badly worn seating. The Historic Ruffin Theater has come a long way in the last 80 years.