The Boston Chamber of Commerce turned to the Glens Falls Chamber of Commerce in December 1919 for advice about how to develop an aviation landing field.
The local chamber was a trend setter, having earlier that year developed the Miller Hill Landing Field, near where the Queensbury school campus on Aviation Road is now.
“Glens Falls is not to be behind the times for one minute if its enterprising chamber of commerce has anything to say about it,” The Lake George Mirror editorialized on July 12, 1919. “As soon as the war was over and they realized just what steps aviation was to take in peace terms, they got busy discussing what Glens Falls ought to do toward stimulating interest in this new means of transportation.”
Pilots also praised the chamber.
“Aviators who have visited Glens Falls during the last several weeks are warm in praise of the landing field which the Glens Falls Chamber of Commerce has secured at Miller Hill,” The Post-Star editorialized on July 26, 1919. “According to these aviators, the landing field is one of the best in this part of the country. They assert it is much better than the field at Albany, about which we have heard so much.”
The chamber secured rights from Cornelius Brownell, owner of the property, to establish the landing field.
The chamber installed fuel pumps and hired Brownell to supervise the selling of gasoline and oil.
The operation was expanded over the years, and was renamed Floyd Bennett Field in 1928, in memory of the local aviator who flew with Richard Byrd over the North Pole, said Glens Falls City Historian Wayne Wright.
The Miller Hill airport closed in 1947, after the current Floyd Bennett Memorial-Warren County Airport on Queensbury Avenue opened.
A century ago, developing the Miller Hill landing field bode well for local economic development and tourism, and provided a new form of recreation for area residents.
Ralph M. Mann, president of Park Trust Co, of Worcestor, Mass., made local headlines when he and pilot C.S. Jones landed Mann’s private plane overnight en route from Curtiss Field on Long Island to Middlebury, Vt. to attend a Middlebury College alumni reunion.
Jones had difficulty finding the landing strip and landed on Bay Road, near the Seaman farm, but found the Miller Hill field OK on the return trip.
Mann stayed overnight at Hotel Cunningham in Hudson Falls because no hotel rooms were available in Glens Falls.
Miss Gladys E. Peters, daughter of merchant C.V. Peters, was the first Glens Falls resident to fly over the city.
The flight that took off from Miller Hill was on Sunday morning June 30, 1919. Peters, wearing an aviation hood and goggles, was a passenger in a Curtis airplane that Lt. O.S. Palmer flew at 2,000 feet above ground for 15 minutes.
“Upon landing the young woman expressed herself as greatly delighted with the experience and said that she at no time had fear of harm befalling her,” The Post-Star reported.
Birch Aircraft Co. of Albany established a local recreational flight service at Miller Hill in July 1919.
“Glens Falls people have always been proud of this beautiful city and justly so, but until the city has been seen from an airplane they will never know how beautiful it is,” The Post-Star reported.
Stewart McFarland, an insurance agent, was the first passenger. Other passengers the first day were Homer Dailey, manager of the Tichnor Cigar Co. store, Robert W. Bayle, a merchant, Thomas Steele, a Hudson Falls farm implement dealer, Michael Moynehan, and H.A. Weinge, who was representing The Post-Star.
In the fall, Weinge again took a flight, this time with a stunt pilot, and wrote about it for The Post-Star.
“As I had been up in an airplane before, I didn’t think there would be any sensation to just going up,” Weinge wrote.
Things got interesting when Allen S. Moody, the pilot, performed a loop the loop, four reverses and four vertical reverses at about 1,500 feet above the ground.
“The first sensation was to that experienced when riding in one of the roller coasters and then suddenly the earth seemed to rush right up at me and before I realized it we had flipped completely over and the earth was back in its proper place,” Weinge wrote.
Early on, some pilots had trouble finding the landing field.
These included Mr. Palmer, sales manager for Curtis Company, an aviation manufacturer, who stopped in Glens Falls for the night en route to Burlington.
“Not having a map to aid him in locating the Miller Hill field, Mr. Palmer first made a landing to the west of Crandall Park, and in getting back into the air again he had a narrow escape from crashing into several trees, a fence and a barn.”
Another pilot that landed near Crandall Park was not so fortunate.
A crowd that gathered helped the pilot push his plane into the park, where he thought it was safe to take off.
But the field was too short and the plane crashed into trees, resulting in an extended stay in Glens Falls while the plane was being repaired.
Sources: The Post-Star, June 20, 30, July 1, 4, 12, 26, Oct. 13, Dec. 18, 1919; The Lake George Mirror, July 12, 1919.
Maury Thompson was a reporter for The Post-Star for 21 years before he retired in 2017. He now is a freelance writer and documentary film producer specializing in regional history. Thompson is collaborating with Snarky Aardvark Films to produce a documentary about Charles Evans Hughes and the Adirondacks, which is expected to release in 2020. See the trailer here.