A forgotten park was once the location for a variety of athletic competitions for youth and adults.
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When the first baseball game was in August 1930 at Whiteway Park, it was outside the city limits; fronted old U.S. 50, now Missouri Boulevard; and filled what today is an open field on Heisinger Road before a drive-in movie.
Brothers Fred and Joe Reed opened the park, naming it Whiteway, from the early term used to refer to lighted streets.
The Reeds were born in Livingston County and moved with their family to Fulton in the early 1900s, where both were coal miners. At the time they started the business venture, older brother Joe owned J.D. Reed Coal Company and Fred was a truck driver.
For six years, Fred was manager of the local semi-pro baseball team, the Senators. The Reed brothers preferred to give local talent the first chance. "Most of all they want a good ball team. If it can be obtained in Jefferson City, so much the better. If not, they will not hesitate to go elsewhere. 'We want a winning team,' declared Manager Fred Reed," the Post Tribune reported.
By the 1931 season, the Senators had a 44-game season and the lighted Whiteway Park had a seating capacity of 3,500 with the outfield fence about 300 feet from home plate. "Ball games without home runs are like gridiron contests without sensational end runs and the managers have decided that something must be done to give the fans more 'thrills,'" the newspaper said.
Local businesses and churches had teams playing games on the field. The Henry Crevelt Home Furnishers players were all unemployed in 1931, so gate receipts for their home games were divided among the team members. Promoter Henry Crevelt Sr. arranged for single-fee cab rides to and from the game for 10 cents and Boys and Girls scouts in uniform were admitted free.
Whiteway Park also was home to the Jefferson City Mohawks, the local team for black players led by pitcher Charles "Lefty" Robinson, too, even hosting the 1932 Negro Baseball Championships of Central Missouri.
A Capital Softball League took shape in 1933, including several of the statewide elected officials. "The games in this league are bitterly contested and are giving the fans, who have been turning out pretty good, no little amusement, due to the continuous arguing and bitter struggle each team puts up," the Post Tribune reported.
The Reed brothers organized the Knot-Hole Gang, where more than 400 young baseball fans turned out to help beautify the park for an hour in exchange for season tickets.
The developing field hosted more than baseball.
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In the fall of 1930, the Reeds organized a local "professional gridiron team." However, the Jefferson City Golden Bears, led by Coach Markey, were "disastrous" in a game against the Warrensburg Mules, lacking weight and football experience, the newspaper said.
The Jefferson City High School Jays football team opened its 1930 home schedule with its first night football game there and continued there for several seasons. The Jefferson City Junior College Bears and the St. Peter's High School Saints also played their games there for several years.
The "terrapin derbies" (turtle races), boxing matches, greyhound races, donkey baseball, geese and turkey shooting matches, circuses, fundraisers, and other outdoor spectacles found the park well-equipped.
A grand, three-day horse show was in May 1931, after the Jefferson City Horse Show Association organized to do so. The park added 50 horse stalls for the nearly 100 horses that first year.
Soon after, in June 1932, the Reeds sold the park for $5,000 to J.W. Miller.
In 1936, Whiteway Park hosted the first Missouri statewide semi-pro baseball tournament. With the help of the National Baseball Congress, the rural park received many new improvements prior to the August 1936, 11-day tournament.
The city's first public address system was installed at the park. Not only was play-by-play announced over the speaker system, but player introductions were made before the game and music played between matches.
Also, the Columbia radio state KFRU made the first live game broadcast. Lighting was improved and the press box was moved to the top of the stands, where a telephone was added.
The last mention of Whiteway Park in newspaper accounts is in 1937.
In May 1949, the 50 Hiwa Drive-In Theatre at 727 Heisinger Road opened on the site that was once Whiteway field. It was designed by Beverly Miller and Associates, Kansas City, and built by Missouri Valley Steel. The 40-foot-by-56-foot image was projected on a 60-foot-high tower in the 350-car theater, plus space for another 200-walk-up seating. In 1976, a second screen was added and the name changed to Twin 50 Drive-In, which closed in September 1985.
Michelle Brooks is a former reporter for the Jefferson City News Tribune and current editor of the HCJ newsletter, Yesterday and Today.