Founding of the Park:
McCulloch Park is Muncie’s biggest community park and is named after the founder of the Muncie Morning Star Newspaper (now called the Muncie Star Press), George F. McCulloch, who gave the city 118 acres of land in order to build a park in 1892. Located on the grounds of the burned down Whitley Harvesting Co., McCulloch park was gifted by George with the condition that the City Of Muncie use it as a public park to be used for free by all inhabitants of the city.
In 1906, Muncie fielded its first professional baseball team, the Muncie Fruit Jars.
In 1922, E.Y. Clark, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan had spoken at McCulloch park, addressing the declining “goodness and purity” of the clan.
In 1931, a permanent wooden grandstand was built in the park. During the 1930’s, the field was visited by several MLB teams. One one occasion, the St. Louis Browns lost a game to one of Muncie’s local teams!
In 1933, McCulloch park started a zoo, by bringing in 31 Rhesus monkeys. They later added other animals such as a bear, raccoons, pheasants, donkeys, goats, and even a skunk.
On July 4th, 1938, the park was overwhelmed with an estimated crowd of 80,000 people, more than the entire population of the city! They came for an Independence Day church gathering, a baseball double-header, along with what is said to be the greatest fireworks display in McCulloch Park’s history.
In 1943, a major league baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates traveled to Muncie for their spring training session. This was during WWII. The team’s selection of traveling to Muncie was an attempt by the MLB to reduce team travel expenses, due to the lower revenues brought about by the war.
During the Pirates’ stay from 1943-1945, other major league teams traveled to McCulloch Park to play them. Rudy York, of the Detroit Tigers, is credited for hitting the longest home run out of the Park.
Once the war ended, the Pirates ended their spring training relationship with Muncie. However, the Cincinnati Reds established a minor league affiliate in the city, called the Muncie Reds. The Reds played at McCulloch Park from 1947 to 1950. Future Cincinnati Reds standouts, Joe Nuxhall and Wally Post, played for Muncie in 1947 and they were among six Muncie Reds players who would later play in the majors.
In 1950, the Muncie Reds disbanded and the field was once again used only by amateur and semi-pro clubs.
On June 2, 1950, a miniature train and merry-go-round were installed in the shelter house at McCulloch Park. At the time, this was the longest miniature train ride in Muncie, at 1,750 feet. A three minute ride cost 9 cents.
On Friday, June 13, 1952, a fire completely destroyed the Park’s grandstand. The grandstand was never replaced, however the field was refurbished and has been maintained since. The park is still in operation today. It is accessible to the community.
In May 1959, the Muncie Park Board approved the construction of a track in McCulloch Park at a cost of $5,000. Other intended uses for the track were focused on winter sports: sledding, skiing, and tobogganing. The track was to be 27 feet wide with three nine-foot wide lanes and 1,000 feet in length.
Starting in 1987, the Delaware County Metro Planning Commission sponsored a month of activities to celebrate June as National Black Music Month. This event still is held annually, and draws in people from Muncie, Anderson, and even Indianapolis.
McCulloch Park hosted the national championships in 2002 and the National Derby Rallies’ National Championships in 2007, which differs from the soapbox derby in that competitors trade wheels and lanes to create a more equal race. Since that time, local interest in soapbox derby racing has waned and the track sits mostly unused except in times of snowfall amounts appropriate for sledding.
Reflection of McCulloch Park’s History:
McCulloch Park has had a rich history within Muncie, and has played a big role in the community, since its inception. Muncie used to be a profitable industrial powerhouse, which brought a demand to elevate and cultivate public spaces within the city. In 1880, Muncie experienced The Gas Boom. The discovery of natural gas in Indiana meant that towns like Muncie could attract industry to them with the promise of free natural gas. According to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society, this was when the Ball Brothers factory moved to Muncie, and when 162 factories came to the “Gas Belt,” which consisted of Muncie, Kokomo, Anderson, and Marion.The upsurge of the automobile industry in the early 1900s brought even more factories to the little Indiana town. According to the Indiana Historical Society, industrialization hit its peak in Muncie in the 1950s during the post-World War II boom. These profitable times for the city directly reflect the amenities and events that existed in McCulloch Park. The closing of major industrial factories in Muncie consequently made many people leave to look for work elsewhere, which ultimately led to public spaces like McCulloch Park to decline in attendance and available amenities. However, McCulloch Park still serves as a main outlet for many community building events such as baseball games, Black Music Month, Homecoming events for Ball State University, and more. The park still exists as an integral part of the surrounding Muncie community and I believe it will remain that way for quite some time. The role of parks and public space in Muncie is to provide the people of Muncie with shared-space areas to gather as a community. This integral role of bringing the community together helps to strengthen the overall engagement, as well as serving as a means to increase both physical and mental health. McCulloch achieves these roles, and I believe the park has a developing and positive future within the City of Muncie.
-By Phillip Oechsle