Most Neosho residents may know where Gardner-Edgewood Drive is located but some may not be aware of the story behind the name. Edgewood was once Neosho's one and only drive-in, a spectacular outdoor movie palace that was built to resemble a Southern mansion. The name Gardner comes from Hugh Gardner who at one time owned all the movie theaters in Neosho, including the Edgewood. Gardner-Edgewood Drive is short and it runs concurrent with the road that was once Highway 71. In its heyday, the Edgewood Drive-In stood on a site near the street, approximately where Lowe's now sits.
Hugh Gardner was a businessman who came to Neosho from Oklahoma. In 1919, Gardner and his wife, Mildred, visited Neosho as tourists. Gardner often recounted how he came down Big Spring Hill in a taxi and first saw the local beauty. He was so impressed with the community he immediately set out to acquire the one local theater. In 1920, Gardner took charge of The White Way Theater. Built in 1917 as the Dreamland Theater and later known as the White Way,he would eventually rename it as The Orpheum. It would operate as a movie theater into the 1980's, when it finally closed. It was later razed and the site where it stood on Wood Street is now a parking lot.
He would add three other movie theaters downtown, The Band Box, the Fotoshow and the Car-Mar (named for his daughters Carolyn and Marilyn), all long gone and no more than pieces of Neosho history. Of the theaters, the Orpheum lasted the longest. In the 1970's and into the early 1980's, teenagers lined up downtown, around the block to attend the movie on Friday night. Saturday nights also drew a crowd but a one of various ages. At one time, the Orpheum still showed a Sunday matinee as well as weeknight showings. In those later years, the balcony was seldom used but when the movie Grease, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John came to Neosho in 1978, the crowd of teens who flocked the Orpheum made it necessary to open the balcony.
After World War II, as drive-in theaters began their popularity, Gardner built the Edgewood Drive-In on a site that was then two miles south of Neosho. A unique feature of the Edgewood was that the back of screen, the side facing Highway 71, was built like a two-story white traditional Southern home. The attention to detail that made it appear to be a home included lamps in the windows of the house.
The Edgewood Drive In was built to resemble Gardner's family's home back in Tennessee. His father, Judge Gardner, hailed from Tennessee and legend says that the plans for the family home were utilized to build the structure, often described as the most beautiful drive-in in the world.
Gardner and relocated to Neosho from Holdenville, Oklahoma where he worked in the abstract land business. He had moved to Oklahoma from Tennessee in the Sooner State's early years and his first position was as a clerk for the Dawes Commission.
Gardner made his home in Neosho until his death on August 1, 1953. He is buried at IOOF Cemetery and although his theaters are long gone, the memories from them will last forever in the hearts and minds of local residents. His name will endure as a street and his most memorable property, The Edgewood Drive-In.