Cumberland County Playhouse

This time of year the Cumberland County Playhouse comes to mind. My family always went to see Fiddler on the Roof and A Sanders Family Christmas growing up and I remember my elementary school taking us to see Scrooge before Christmas break. It was a tradition I will never forget. The culture the playhouse has created is unique to our town. 

In 1963, Mr. Paul Crabtree came to Crossville after a career in Hollywood. His wife Mary Bishop was a native to Cumberland County, having grown up here. Mr. Crabtree had ambitions of finishing his book, Doby Creek and felt Cumberland County offered a quiet place to write. 

Tennessee Virtual Archive
Tennessee Virtual Archives

Not long after their arrival, Cumberland County School Superintendent O.C. Stewart approached the couple about producing shows in the schools. After some thought, they began with a musical theater he had written with Sister Thomas Gertrude, The Perils of Pinocchio. That schoolhouse production set a new fire in the people of Cumberland County, and shortly after in 1965 the Cumberland County Playhouse was built. Their first act was Tennessee, USA! The play focused on key events throughout Tennessee’s history.

Tennessee Virtual Archives

Mr. Paul Crabtree helped the Playhouse get on its feet for the first six years and produced multiple shows. His wife Mary took on managing the stage and creative direction while her husband went on to write plays for Opryland in Nashville. 

When Mr. and Mrs. Crabtree passed away, their son Jim took over the business and produced over 100 shows by 1988. In 1990 the program received a state grant of $100,000 and capital funds of $400,000 to expand the building and program to what we know today. 

Today the Producing Director and CEO is Mr. Bryce McDonald. Their schedule can be found on their website:


  2. Rural Life and Culture in the Upper Cumberland, Birdwell and Dickinson
  3. Cumberland County, Tennessee Volume II, Krechniak
  4. Cumberland County, Dickinson

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