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Former Westfield Airport Was Once a Major Selling Point for Town In 1930s; Was Located in Clark Just Off the Garden State Parkway
Editors Note: The following is an edited down version of the talk on the former Westfield Airport given by former Mayor Garland C. "Bud" Boothe, Jr., at a recent meeting of the Westfield Historical Society. A photograph of the airport, taken by Carl Frank of Clark, recently was added to the art collection displayed in the Community Room in the Westfield Municipal Building. The airport closed in 1956 to make room for a housing development.
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Many residents in Westfield may not realize that the town once had an airport. It also had a casino (a social club) and a race track for that matter. After construction of the airport, built in the late 1920s, town officials saw the new facility as a major selling point for the town to go along with having a United States Post Office, a railway station on a main train line, a baseball team, a band, and at a later point, night and daytime telephone service.
Following the transcontinental flight of Charles A. Lindbergh from New York to Paris May 20 and 21, 1927, communities throughout the United States began realizing the importance of having their own air fields.
This was the case in Westfield which debuted its airport, which was actually located in neighboring Clark, on October 21, 1928, although some newspaper clippings indicate the airport opened on March 31, 1929. The airport was located on farmland which has since been developed with homes.
Mr. Boothe recalls the airport as a location along Garden State Parkway in the 1950s. He used to pass the airport on the way to college or the Jersey shore.
E.R. Crow, the owner of the former Westfield Ford agency on North Avenue, helped select the site for the airport during the summer of 1928. He served as the Westfield Airport Corporations first president while Alan Bruce Conlin served as the airports lawyer.
Prior to its opening there had been discussion by the Town Council that the airport should be located on the tract of land which was being used at the time for a sewage disposal plant. The council believed the site could be used after the Rahway Valley trunk sewer line was completed, thus making the towns maintenance of the sewer plant unnecessary.
The area covered by the plant was used instead for what is today Tamaques Park -- the largest municipal operated park in Westfield.
At a third anniversary dinner held for the airport in 1931 at the Echo Lake Country Club, State Senator Arthur N. Pierson said at the time they now boast of having an airport.
Mr. Boothe explained that the airport was fairly large. It had three runways, the longest of which was 2,700 feet and located parallel to the Parkway. The facility also had two hangers located across the Clark Township and Union County line in Woodbridge, located in Middlesex County.
"The airport was typical of the day, grass strips, biplanes and loud authoritative piston engines," Mr. Boothe explained to those in attendance.
There was no air traffic control at the airport or at any other airports at the time. The main runway was located behind Madison Hill Road in Clark. The area is located just south of the Clark interchange on the Parkway.
The hangers were located in the area on the highway which has the marking "Entering Middlesex County."
During his talk, the former two-term Mayor explained that the first pilot to land a plane at the airport was the late Cap Smith, a Westfield realtor for many years, who had been a shipboard wireless operator and later operated a plane based at the Hadley Airport in South Plainfield.
Mr. Smith landed periodically at the airport, including a stop in May of 1938 to pick up some letters as part of a celebration to mark the 20th anniversary of air mail.
Bob Buck, formerly of Trinity Place and who used to fly a glider at the airport with a friend, set an altitude record out of Westfield Airport of over 15,000 feet while using oxygen.
This flight almost became a tragic one, however, when the pilot could not find his way down through storm clouds.
Mr. Buck finally found a hole in the clouds over Summit and returned home with a realization that flying that day, which had been against the advice of others at the airport, had not been such a good idea.
The pilot later acquired his own plane and, in the fall of 1930, set transcontinental flying records, both east to west, of 28.5 hours and west to east of just under 24 hours. Then he set a record flying back from Havana just under 28 hours in February, 1931.
Mr. Buck tested his rubber life raft for this trip in the Westfield "Y" pool. For his Havana trip, he was invited to meet President Herbert Hoover at the White House in Washington, D.C. Mr. Buck is said to have given President Hoover a foot-long Cuban cigar.
During World War II, Mr. Buck was an air transport pilot and researched weather. He joined Trans World Airlines in 1937, and was chief pilot for the airline until he retired in 1974. Today, he lives in Vermont. When he was just 17, Mr. Buck wrote a book about his accomplishments in 1931.
Westfield Airport hosted parachute jumps, one of which resulted in a fatality, air races and aerobatics as well as rides. A big air meet was held in June of 1931, co-sponsored by the Westfield real estate board, which included warbirds and planes from World War I.
According to an audio by Walter Cronkite (which was played during the presentation), Westfield Airport was fondly remembered by Steve Pisanos, a Greek who flew with the American Eagle Squadron. Mr. Pisanos was the first person to gain citizenship by serving with American forces. He saved his pennies he earned shucking oysters in New York to buy a flying lesson.
He joined the squadron in order to learn how to fly for free at the recommendation of staff at the airport. They advised him to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) at which time he wound up with the American Eagle squadron.
The squadron wound up going overseas during World War II and was later taken into the United States Air Force. As a member of the squadron, Mr. Pisanos was one of the first fighter pilots over Berlin.
Mr. Pisanos shot down 10 German planes and was, himself, shot down. Mr. Cronkite explained that Mr. Pisanos evaded capture for six months and fought his way back to the squadron. He gained United States citizenship for his service and retired years later as an Air Force Colonel.
The Colonel, in speaking to Mr. Boothe in a telephone conversation, said he lived in the old Park Hotel in Plainfield while going to Westfield Airport for his flying lessons. He spent two years in the RAF, 30 in the Air Force and two more with TWA.
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