St. Johnsbury Municipal Airport – January 2017 Edition of History & Hertiage
Updated: Apr 18
Welcome to the January edition of History & Heritage. Our purpose is to acquaint you with our mission to preserve the town’s rich history, highlight the legacy of those who have gone before and show how our past has shaped our present. We are a non-profit with 501(c)(3) status.
We are located at 421 Summer Street. At the present time, the Center is open Monday through Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. thanks to a wonderful staff of volunteers. This is your establishment and we encourage your support in making this historic home a wonderful place for exhibiting, preserving and collecting St. Johnsbury’s history. The carriage barn is a work in progress but the horse drawn vehicles and the ice cutting exhibit are ready for your visit. Progress is happening on different projects in the Center with two closets being readied as exhibit spaces; reception area having maps hung and a new case filled with early St. Johnsbury artifacts; stain glass windows lit and basement storage improved with lighting, shelving and climate controls. The Carriage Barn has a wagon platform scale up and weighing while other scales wait for their place in the exhibit space. Check out our web site at www.stjhistory.org and our Facebook page. Our mailing address is 421 Summer Street, St. Johnsbury, Vt., 05819 and phone number is 802 – 424 – 1090.
St. Johnsbury Municipal Airport
“Air markers throughout the north country direct flights to this field, one of the largest and best in this section of New England. The port was literally hewn from the forest and represents an outlay to date of about $80,000. There still is work to be done. When it is completed St. Johnsbury will have an airport representing $100,000 and unsurpassed in Northern New England. Its two completed runways can accommodate the largest planes. Two more runways have been plotted and may be quickly developed when demands of air travel require it. The all-steel fire-proof hanger houses 14 planes. The port is open twelve months of the year.”
This is a quote from the book put out in 1937 about St. Johnsbury, called 150 Years of Progress. An airplane is depicted in flight over the title of this source. For those who have no recollection of this site, it was reached by Route 5 north and turning left beyond the St. Johnsbury Country Club. It is now part of the Industrial Park. Some may remember it in their Scouting days as a campsite while others remember it as a place where the 4th of July fireworks took place. Yes, there are still a few pilots, including Roger Damon, who flew in and out of there and have their stories to tell!
Claire Dunne Johnson’s book, I See by the Paper –Volume 2 tells us that in 1934, locations were being looked at for the airport and the Barton Works farm was the best (Gingue Farm) but was too expensive. January 26th saw a meeting for people to vote on two other sites and the 140 acre site just north of the Country Club was selected. A first report to the Chamber said the federal government would pay for a first class airport with an expected price of $50,000. Two hundred and ten men would start work at .50 cents an hour, twenty four hours a week. Forty, 2-horse teams and four 2-yard trucks would be needed to haul rock, fill and gravel for runways. Not so good news followed three weeks later when unskilled labor was cut to .40 cents an hour and the feds would not pay for materials used. All this news took place in February with a completion date of May 1st!! And so the project began.
Work progressed with snow delays and on August 19, 1934 the first official flight was made from the St. Johnsbury Airport at 7 p.m. by Ralph Stancliffe, Charles Sumner, (Municipal Manager) and Ray Flint. Unofficially Mr. Stancliffe had taken Bill Jenks up earlier to take aerial pictures.
In 1935, 135 men were working at the airport which had received state approval for use as a commercial airport. At this time three planes were in residence including a new, five passenger Ryan cabin plane with a Wright J – 5 motor, belonging to Clyde Padham. Ralph Stancliffe had flown it from Burlington in thirty-five minutes. It was also noted that at the end of the month of May, night flying was being offered with rides over St. Johnsbury, Lyndonville or Mt. Washington. On August 16th of this year, the first official flight of an airliner – Atlantic Air Lines transport – holding eleven passengers took off. Among the passengers were Town Manager Sumner, Ralph Stancliffe and his wife, Ray Flint, Ruth Impey and one selectman.
In the year of 1936, the Caledonian reported the hanger was being fabricated in Evansville, Indiana. It would hold twenty planes. In the early days of the airport, the old Secony filing station on Portland Street had been moved there to serve as an office.
The St. Johnsbury Airport was dedicated to Lieutenant Stetson Brown of St. Johnsbury.He was a graduate of St. Johnsbury Academy and Norwich University in Northfield. In mid May of 1935, the first Army plane landed at the airport. Piloted by Brown, this was a seven ton Keystone bomber flying in from Langley Field, Va. It was a six – hour flight with one refueling stop. Automobile lights were used to light the field for the 9:15 p.m. landing! It was reported that 1500 spectators watched him take off Sunday morning. Tragedy struck the following year, April 5, 1936, he was returning from Cleveland, Ohio with four others when overtaken by a storm. Wind, sleet, fog and darkness were factors in the crash of the plane on a mountainside in Fredericksburg, Pa.
At the highest point of land at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery is his final resting place. It was here at his gravesite that my dad told me of being a young boy standing on the steps of the Athenaeum when Stetson Brown flew at treetop level down Eastern Avenue letting his dad who had a store on the Avenue, know he was in the area. Dad said it was deafening and a sight he would never forget.