A theater is the center of a bold revitalization of quaint Pleasant Hill.

Photography by Jeremey Theron Kirby.

Tucked between Lee’s Summit and Harrisonville on Highway 7 lies the charming town of Pleasant Hill.

On a recent Saturday night, the foyer of the Peoples Theater filled with the smell of popcorn as people shuffled through the front doors. The floors of the century-old building creaked as crowds poured into the lofty auditorium, filling the theater seats row after row, waiting for the velvet curtains to draw. 

Over the past five years there’s been a transformation of Pleasant Hill’s historic downtown. Today, it might remind you more of Weston than Belton.

Jennifer Rugh, a real estate investor who came to Missouri from California, is trying to make Pleasant Hill her permanent home after being drawn to the community’s quaint charms. She recently took on the project of renovating the Peoples Theater, a staple of the community since its construction in 1909. 

Her goal is to restore the building’s history and make it a hub of the town, a place for everyone to gather. Rugh purchased the theater earlier this year from Dennis Dittemore and his family, who have cared for the town landmark since 1982. 

Dittemore is still around, hosting The Big Creek Country Show. A weekly musical production that’s been showing every Saturday night for more than forty years. His show attracts more than a hundred people each week and features different musical guests.

“Really it’s like a big family down here,” says Dittemore, expressing admiration for his patrons. Rugh hopes to expand that family by adding movie screenings and more live shows Friday nights. One of the anticipated musical guests will be Hunter Mounce, returning from Nashville to sing for his hometown.  

But the Peoples Theater is only part of the package. The downtown area has procured an eclectic array of local businesses taking over the town’s old brick buildings, giving the rustic square a new life. “There is a lot of creativity here,” Rugh says.

The New Town Auction House’s unique collection of antiques attracts people from all over the Midwest. People file into the auction house with bid cards in hand, standing shoulder to shoulder, ready for the chance to bid on everything from vintage seventies dresses to a novelty Hush Puppy lamp.

Across the street, the American Dwelling boutique specializes in beautiful hand-crafted items and has a style that Rugh compares to the iconic apothecary shop featured in the show Schitt’s Creek. The Wyoming Street Wine Shop is a community favorite known for its paninis and “Wine Snob Wednesdays” wine tasting nights. They also host poker and bingo tournaments and the occasional murder mystery night. 

Pleasant Hill is also home to the oldest pool hall in the United States—The Pleasant Hill Pool Hall, which opened in 1907, has been a gathering place for the community for more than a hundred years. Inside, not much has changed. The establishment retains many of its original features, from the barbacks and pool cue racks to the wood floors and intricate gold-tile ceilings. It is rumored that the tables inside have “floated three times.”

Beyond its business atmosphere, Pleasant Hill has a large off-road vehicle community. They host events and holiday celebrations where people elaborately decorate their utility task vehicles and parade through the town. They are extravagant events that are uniquely Pleasant Hill.

Like Rugh, many of the town’s residents aren’t originally from Pleasant Hill, but the community has an inherent magnetism that draws people in. Rugh says the people there have a “loyalty to Pleasant Hill” and “it feels like people are looking out for you.” There is an admirable connectivity within the community. Pleasant Hill is welcoming, and the people there are excited to openly share the treasures of their town with outsiders. 

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