A “colored” businessman on the Great White Way

This column by Daniel G. Clark first appeared in the Muscatine Journal on July 19, 2023. Above: Lee Greenway in 1909. (Oscar Grossheim Collection of Musser Public Library, Muscatine)

The Civil War-era “Whiteway” building stands in a prime location we call Carver Corner today.

Muscatine Journal, March 12, 1919: “The White Way hotel will probably be the name of Muscatine’s newest hostelry, which will be opened within the next ten days at the corner of Hershey avenue and Green street.”

“The Appel building, a three-story brick structure, has been remodeled and changed into a modern hotel and rooming house. Fifteen apartments, some only one room, and some of two and three, have been fitted up. The first floor will be the hotel lobby and a spacious dining-room, while the two upper floors will be sleeping rooms.”

Newspaper ad a century ago: “Cool and airy rooms with or without meals. Apply White Way Hotel. Phone 2428

Proprietor H.B. McDowell came up with the name, apparently, but he wasn’t the first to imagine modernizing the already-old building along Muscatine’s segment of the Great White Way, the fastest motoring route across Iowa.

January 20, 1916: “Ernest Schoenig [will] open a restaurant and ice cream parlor in the Appel building…. Mr. Schoenig proposes to open a first class establishment, and will serve both regular meals and short orders. The building is now being put in shape for the opening.”

May 9, 1918: “Lee E. Greenway has purchased…the three story brick building at the corner of Green street and Hershey avenue, also the two story frame building adjoining the brick structure. … The brick building is known as the Appel building. It is the intention of Mr. Greenway to remodel the brick building and make it strictly modern. The third floor which for so long has been a dance hall will be converted into modern flats.”

* * *

Greenway! A name I know from local Black History. Lee Greenway is in photos labeled African American in the Musser Public Library collection. Popular at Muscatine High School as athlete, musician, and manager of the Mandolin Club.

From the 1903 class prophecy: “The one hundred musicians before him are awaiting the signal of his baton. The packed house behind him give evidence of the popularity of his Greenway orchestra concerts in burst after burst of applause. He turns, bows, with the same old smile we have seen so often from our own rostrum, then gives the signal for the opening bars of ‘Old Muscatine,’ his latest march.”

Keen to learn how real life turns out, I set aside the White Way story and research the Greenways.

April 10, 1907: “Mr. Greenway has appeared in many concerts, mandolin clubs and glee clubs. He now ranks with the best soloists of his race in America.”

Reports of his music appear until 1919, both as solo performer (cello and trombone) and member or manager of ensembles and orchestras. But none later.

* * *

William H. Greenway, father of Lee and six siblings including twin brother William Jr., established the Greenway barber shop in 1861. In 1930, his obituary says it might be the oldest continuous barber practice in the state.

“Five sons were taught the barber trade by Mr. Greenway.”

October 1913: “Lee Greenway has just opened a new and up to date shining parlor for Ladies and Gents at 121 Iowa avenue.”

“The furnishings of the parlor are beautiful, being of quarter-sawed oak throughout. Large mirrors are placed on one wall and a lattice and flower effect is used in the rear. There is a specially curtained off parlor for ladies.”

His ad says you can get 25 shoe-shines for a dollar.

* * *

Then, in 1918, we find him at the future Carver Corner.

April 24, 1918: “One of the largest real estate transactions that has been made in the city for some time was made this week when Lee E. Greenway, a well known business man, purchased…the old Schaeffer building located at 204 West Second street. … Although no definite plans have been announced it is probable that all of the modern conveniences will be added in the near future by Mr. Greenway.”

August 9, 1918: “An extensive deal in real estate was consummated today by which Lee E. Greenway of Iowa avenue becomes the owner of Dr. Henry F. Lang’s 225 acre Geneva island stock farm. Mr. Greenway intends taking immediate possession and will make a specialty of fancy stock. He is going to give the farm his personal attention and will also for the present continue his barber business at the old stand. In the same transaction, Dr. Henry F. Lang purchases from Lee E. Greenway the Appel building in South Muscatine.…”

Plus two other buildings, including the one acquired in April.

Next I search backward and find property transactions as early as 1910, and others later. And notes of a colorful life.

When his death “after an extended illness” is reported in June 1952, Lee E. Greenway is simply “retired barber and life resident of Muscatine.”

There’s much more to tell, of course.

Next time: Greenway’s Underground Railroad

About the Author(s)


  • Nice piece

    I wanted to complement Daniel Clark for this piece. I used the info in the article to find the hotel, and see it’s decaying but still there. I’d insert a photo from Google Street View here, but the site doesn’t support that.

    Is there more to the story of the decline of this building and business? Are there old pictures of the interior from back in the day?