Monday, July 9, 2018

Shelley Businessman and Theater Owner Francis Davis [otd 07/09]

Theater owner and Mormon Bishop Francis M. Davis was born July 9, 1883 in Provo, Utah. He first found regular employment when he was just twelve years old. After several years in various unskilled jobs, he began working as an accountant. He spent seven years in that line before becoming a traveling salesman. His route took him into Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

In 1906-1909, Davis served LDS missions in England and Germany. When he returned to the States, he again worked as an accountant. Three years later, he married Mary Ellen Shelley. About that time, perhaps because an accountant’s salary was inadequate for a family man, Davis went back to work as a traveling salesman.

John F. Shelley, ca. 1890.
Shelley Public Library.
Mary’s father, John F. Shelley, was among those who founded two villages near Idaho Falls. In 1892 and 1893, he began developing a spot about ten miles down the river from the “big town.” Besides a home and barn, Shelley also built a store, which became part of "Shelley Siding" on the railroad.

Francis Davis and Mary moved to Shelley two years after they were married.

In Shelley, Davis started as Credit Manager for Shelley Mercantile Company and worked his way up to Assistant Manager. Eventually he would serve on the Board of Directors for the Mercantile as well as the Shelley Light & Power Company and the Shelley Mill & Elevator Company. He would also serve all three companies as Secretary and Treasurer.

In 1915, Davis was made a Bishop of the Shelley LDS church. He also developed an interest in the growing motion picture – “movie” – business. Until then, the only available commercial entertainment was in Idaho Falls, which had hosted traveling road shows since the 1880s. The first movies appeared there in 1907. By the end of 1915, Idaho Falls had four movie theaters.

Virginia Theater, 2008.
Cropped from photo at Wikimedia Commons,
submitted by Sociotard.
In 1918, Francis built the Virginia Theatre, which was equipped with the latest features current at the time. Within a few years, the facility would make the transition from silent films to talkies.

Around 1936, Davis began allowing the Shelley Chamber of Commerce to use the theater for a Christmas children’s show. (The Kiwanis took over sponsorship after awhile.) The tradition continued for at least twenty years after Francis sold the Virginia to his son Ralph in 1946.

Davis became a very prominent leader in the LDS Church, both in Shelley and in Idaho Falls. He served as President of the LDS Temple in Idaho Falls for about fourteen years, starting around 1950. As such, he officiated at a remarkable number of weddings between then and about 1963. Not infrequently, he would perform more than one on a given day , and a few times three, four, or even more.

In November 1967, around 6 p.m. on the day before Thanksgiving, F. M. Davis was killed in a one-car accident. His car plunged into an empty canal at a curve in a rural road. Whether he lost control or had a fatal health event was not reported.

Although the Virginia Theater closed for awhile, it is now very active. By today’s standards, it is rather small as a movie venue, so they focus mostly on stage plays and improvisational theater.
References: [French], [Hawley]
“Auto Accident Kills Francis M. Davis,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (Nov 23, 1967).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).

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