Column – Hal Lyon Enterprises

Published 6:03 pm Friday, March 31, 2023

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Spanning nearly 50 years of service to Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight, Hal J. Lyon was engaged in many business pursuits which included Hal Lyon Enterprises, Inc. and Lyon Realty Corporation. The two organizations were among the most varied and most successful business operations in Tidewater Virginia.

Hal Lyon Enterprises owned and operated a number of motion picture theaters and hotels in southeast Virginia. Lyon Realty Corp. owned considerable commercial and residential properties in the region, including, in Franklin, post-World War II, involvement with property and rental houses that evolved into what became known as the Meadowbrook neighborhood. He also owned properties located in many other parts of the United States.

Owned in their entirety by the Lyon family, Hal J. Lyon was president and general manager of the two corporations; Halouise Lyon McDowell, Mr. Lyon’s daughter, was vice president and his mother, Clara Parker Lyon, was secretary-treasurer.

For many years, Robert F. Phillips was business manager and Irvin H. Thomason was supervisor of maintenance for the Lyon organizations. 

Hal was born September 16, 1909, at Waterloo, Iowa. On his 21st birthday, coming to Franklin in 1930, he signed a lease on the “Franklin Theater” which was located on the northeastern corner of Main Street and Fourth Avenue. The theater building had been constructed in 1921 by a group of Franklin investors, headed by James L. Camp, Sr.  In 1935, Hal opened the new “Boykins Theater” in Boykins. On September 10, 1937, Hal opened “Lyon’s State Theater” which was located on the southwestern corner of Main Street and Bogart Street. For a period of time, up until the late 1940s, he was operating both Franklin theaters simultaneously. In 1942, he assumed total ownership of the Franklin Theater and formed Franklin Amusement Corporation to which was added the new Lyon’s State Theater. In 1940, Hal established the “Waverly Theater” in Waverly. In 1946, the “Elco Theater” and “Delta Theater” in Portsmouth were acquired by Hal and added to the Lyon theater circuit. In 1950, Hal opened the 300-car “Carrsville Drive-In Theater” in Carrsville.

In 1948, Hal purchased the former Robert A. Pretlow mansion on South High Street in Franklin and converted it into an inn and restaurant and named it “The Town House”, with Mrs. Mary Buck as the manager.

In addition to his business interests, Hal was very active in community affairs. His many other endeavors and involvements included: president, Franklin Housing Corporation; president, Franklin Chamber of Commerce; charter member, Franklin Lions Club; president, Franklin Community Fund; president, Franklin Rotary Club; chairman, Southampton County Chapter, National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis; president, Franklin Community Concert Association; vice president, Virginia Travel Council, and a director of Virginia Motion Picture Theater Owners’ Association.

Hal’s home, on High Street in Franklin, was considered a show place in Tidewater  Carl Linder of Richmond was the architect, and the Thorington Construction Company of Richmond built it. Interior decorations and furnishings were handled by Gump’s of Honolulu. 

A world-renowned organist, Hal was a graduate of American Conservatory of Music and held a Masters’ Degree from the Union Theological Seminary. During his lifetime, he put on concerts in many places across the country and abroad  In 1950, while on a tour of 16 European countries, Hal played the organ at many venues, including regular religious services at Westminster Abbey in London, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, and at the famous Monastery of St. Francis of Assisi near Rome. 

He was Choirmaster and Master of Music at Franklin Baptist Church from 1930 to 1945. From 1945 to 1963, he was Organist and Choir Master at High Street United Methodist Church in Franklin.

Hal died on May 11, 1977 at the age of 67. At that time, he was survived by his daughter Halouise Lyon McDowell of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. His wife Louise Basnight Lyon died in 1960.

Acknowledgement: Irvin Henry Thomason, Jr.

Clyde Parker is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is