MA Aviation Historical Society Inc.
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Wakefield MA 01880-0957

Telephone: 781.662.1253
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Massachusetts Pioneer Aviation Grounds and Flying Fields 1910 - 1914

Before there were airports, a word first used in the United States in 1919, there were aviation grounds and flying fields in Massachusetts. These were places where hopeful aeronautical experimenters, gathered together with their friends and supporters to fly their unique, powered aeroplanes and gliders. Before 1910 these aviation sites were usually located on pasture land, on farm fields after the harvest, on the hills and open spaces in city parks and on the salt marshes of the North Shore, Cape Cod and South Shore. On February 28, 1910 a new era of experimental flight began with the first powered, controlled flight in Massachusetts by Augustus Herring. The Herring–Burgess biplane, the Model A “Flying Fish”, piloted by Herring lifted off the ice at Chebacco Lake in Hamilton. This first flight from the lake’s frozen surface was just the beginning for the Burgess Company of Marblehead. This flight was the first step in a business plan to start volume production of the Model A and to build and test new, improved aircraft. Starling Burgess surveyed the North Shore for a quiet, secluded location for flight testing three new aeroplane designs. After reviewing a number of locations he selected to place his Burgess Aviation Ground at Plum Island in Newbury 1.2 miles down Island Road (now Refuge Road) from the Plum Island Turnpike.

Note: The latitude and longitude for each site below are presented in the decimal entry format used by Google Earth ©           


Newbury- Burgess Aviation Ground- 1910 – Lat. / Long:  42 47.035' N, 70 48.620 W

107 acres of marsh hay fields at Plum Island were leased by the Burgess Company from March through September, 1910. This site across from the mouth of Little Pine Creek was 3.2 miles SSE of Newbury center; 4.5 miles SSE of Newburyport center; Altitude: 1’; The aviation ground had a North / South orientated take off / landing area on the tidal marsh:  1,700’ long by 60’ wide; a wood plank “startup runway” of 100’ was available in case of high tide flooding (used once), a catapult launching system and track also was available for assisting take offs but it was not needed. One hangar was built, accommodating four aeroplanes, with a roof cupola to facilitate launching a Burgess glider. A small apartment was included at the rear of the hangar for Starling and Rosamund Burgess. The aviators in training, the mechanics and other employees were housed at the nearby Plum Island Hotel.  This test site was similar to the Wright’s field at Huffman Prairie, near Dayton Ohio and the aviation field that Burgess had observed at Fort Meyer, VA. He met there with Orville Wright during the trial flights for the Wright Flyer built for U.S. Army in 1908. The Burgess Aviation Ground site is located in the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

Quincy- Squantum- Harvard Aviation Field - 1910-1917- Lat. / Long:   42 17’ 49.34 N, 71 1’ 44.13 W

In July 1910, the Harvard Aeronautical Society learned that Soldiers Field in Allston across the Charles River from Cambridge could not be used for the upcoming Harvard Boston Aero Meet of 1910. They quickly leased the 500 acres of undeveloped meadows and marsh at Squantum Meadows in Quincy from the New York, New Haven Railroad. Construction of hangars, grandstands, access roads and spectator amenities started immediately and were finished on September 1st shortly before the aero meet opened.
The field was also used for the first U.S. Inter-collegiate glider meet in May 1911, the second Harvard Boston Aero Meet in September 1911 and the ill fated Boston Aero Meet of 1912.  Before and after the 1911 aero meet the Burgess Company and individual experimenters made use of the aviation field for test flying, flight demonstrations and flight instruction. Squantum became a popular destination for Greater Boston aviation experimenters, their families, friends and investors from 1911 through expiration of the Harvard lease in 1915. In 1916 the Massachusetts Naval Militia’s six seaplanes were based there for New England coastal patrols and flight instruction was provided for Naval Militia members. That same year the Whittemore Hamm Aeroplane Company of Jamaica Plain tested its first prototype aircraft at Squantum and the Sturtevant Aeroplane Company also of Jamaica Plain established their production flight testing and flight training school there.

Just prior to America’s entry  into WWI the U.S. Navy became interested in Squantum and in 1917 the Navy acquired the entire Squantum Meadows site and set in motion the construction programs to construct Naval Air Station Squantum,  the first Naval Air Station in New England.                      

Ipswich- Moulton’s Farm- 1910-1911 - Lat. / Long:   42 39’ 40 N, 70 49’ 38.40 W 

4 miles SSE of Ipswich center; Burgess and Curtis Company and Gardiner Greene Hubbard each leased the farm’s open pasture land and the barns during October 1910-March 1911. The Burgess flight testing included its new Model D and Model E aeroplanes. G. G. Hubbard was testing new and improved versions of his original Mike monoplane built by the Canadian Aerodrome Company and first flown on April 5, 1910 at Baddeck in Canada.                                                                               

Saugus- Cliftondale- Franklin Park Racetrack- 1911-1922 – Lat. / Long:    42 26’ 21.00 N,  71 00’ 26.00 W

This abandoned race track opened in 1857 and closed in 1904. Located on the Saugus–Revere line with its hotel, horse barns, hard packed dirt track, surrounded on three sides by 600 acres of open, unobstructed marshland, it had been a popular destination known in it’s later years for its fast women and slow horses. Now in 1911 it began its second life, the racetrack’s “Chapter two”, with well to do Boston aeronautical experimenters, assisted by neophyte aviators and apprentice mechanics building new aeroplanes and hopefully flying them. The old hotel was updated providing on site living quarters, the horse barns were modified to serve as hangars and the oval racetrack’s straight-aways provided two hard packed WNW / ESE “runways” of 1875’ and 3,500’.

In April 1911 the newly formed the Arrowplane Company set up its flight testing operation at Saugus. Late in 1911 the General Aviation Company leased most of the field for an aviation training school and hired “King of the Air” Harry Atwood as their chief instructor, and they renamed the field Atwood Park. They sponsored a successful three day aero meet in May 1912 at which Harry Atwood with his Burgess Wright Model F made the first airmail flight in New England, from Cliftondale to the Lynn Common. In August 1912, the Burgess Company set up a flight testing and training operation at Saugus. In early September 1912 a group of exhibition fliers set up base at the field to support their scheduled exhibition flights at the annual Fall county and state agricultural fairs around New England.

From 1911 to April 1917 Saugus on the North Shore and Squantum on the South Shore were the only two public flying fields in Massachusetts that were available to the growing number of aviators for safe flight operations and for the servicing, repairing and storing of their aircraft.

Saugus was the airfield that qualified the first aviators who were officially licensed to fly by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. On July 16, 1915 Ruth Bancroft Law age 25, of Lynn was the first woman to receive a MA Aviator license and earlier in 1913 was the third woman to be licensed in the United States. She had soloed at Saugus in a Burgess Wright Model F on August 1, 1912 and received her Aero Club of America license # 188 on November 12, 1913.  Also on July 16, 1915  J. Chauncey Redding age 22, of Melrose also soloed in a Burgess Wright Model F and received MA Aviator license #1.

The Whittemore Hamm Company of Jamaica Plain moved its office and set up its flight testing at Saugus in 1916. They built their first aircraft in Jamaica Plain section of Boston which made its first flight at Squantum.  Requiring additional space for new production aircraft they moved from Squantum to new leased office and hangar space at Saugus and operated there until 1922. 

As the closest airfield to the city of Boston, Saugus received the first airmail flight destined for the Boston Central Post Office from New York City on June 8, 1918. From that time on, until the East Boston Airport opened in September 1923, Saugus was the destination airport for flights to the Boston and the Greater Boston area. Although this airfield was officially closed in 1922 aircraft occasionally flew in and out of the racetrack field until September 1927 when all flying was prohibited because of the hazardous condition of the field

Waltham- Metz Aviation Field: - 1911- Lat. / Long:   42 22’ 19.73 N,  71 12’ 34.62 W

The field was located on the 75 acre former Gore Estate, 2.25 miles East from the center of Waltham at Main and Gore St. The Metz Company established its headquarters there after acquiring the Gore property in April 1911. Metz was a leading manufacturer of automobiles and its factory buildings were located nearby. In late 1910 the company planned to add aeroplanes to its product line and built the Metz Air-Car monoplane which was based on the very popular Bleriot monoplane from France. Metz also built a prototype Curtiss type biplane which they advertised along with the monoplane in early 1911.

This business initiative also led them to plan the Metz Aero Meet for June 15-20 1911 on the lawns behind the Gore mansion. They contacted local aviators and contracted with French and British agents to book foreign aviators for the meet. In May 1911 a large field was fenced off on the south side of the estate, grandstands were built, tent hangars setup and spectator amenities were installed on the field. While construction continued, a publicity campaign was underway to maximize attendance, and $50,000 was set aside for prizes for competitive events including a unique long distance interstate flight.  Nine aviators signed on or just showed up including: Harry Atwood, Earle Ovington, Lincoln Beachey, Charles Witmer, Cromwell Dixon, James Martin and his wife Lily Irvine Martin, Paul Semeniouk, Ignatius Studensky and a local Waltham boy Joseph Downey. Fine weather prevailed through the five days of the meet and the paid attendance was 50,000. The Metz Aero Meet was one of the few aero meets of the period that actually made a profit for the organizers.                                                           

Boston- Hyde Park- Readville Race Track- 1911-1917 - Lat. / Long:    42 14’ 4.23N,  71 7’ 53.03 W

This racetrack area was used by barnstorming aviators in 1911 and was available for use except when harness racing and later, when auto racing events were scheduled. It was also used in 1916-1917 for initial flight testing by the nearby Sturtevant Aeroplane Company of Hyde Park and Jamaica Plain. Many years later during World War II, naval aviators from NAS Squantum used this former racetrack area for touch and go landings and field carrier landing practice.                   

Marblehead- Hathaway Farm-1911-1912 – Lat. / Long:   42 29’ 33.00 N,  70 52’ 08.76 W

This farm was used intermittently by the Burgess Company during the late fall and winter months of 1911-1912 for flight testing new Burgess aeroplanes. This farm site is now the site of Marblehead High School.                                                              

Revere-Point of Pines Hydroaeroplane station- 1912-1939 – Lat. / Long:    42 26’31.13 N,  70 57’ 55.83 W

This site was used for storing and maintaining hydroaeroplanes that were used for flight instruction at the Saugus Racetrack airfield. It was also used for servicing and testing new and transient seaplanes and flying boats. The seaplanes based at Holt’s Pier on Revere Beach in the 1920s and 1930s were serviced and stored here as well.                               

Nahant- Nahant Beach- 1914-1915 – Lat. / Long:       42 26’ 39.51 N,  70 56’ 13.77 W

Massachusetts aviation experimenters, including Roscoe Peregrine Timson of Lynn and George Norman Albree of Swampscott, were able to receive special state permits to reserve the use of Nahant Beach for flight testing their new aeroplanes. Bookings for the early morning hours on the one mile, hard packed sand of this popular beach, were readily available on the condition that the test flights and related activities were to be completed and the beach cleared by 8 AM. 

 



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