The history of the Plum Island Airport which I have available on my website here; was predated by the very first “airport” in New England. The Wright Brothers had just flown their first flight in 1903 and as history often forgets the losers in a race; they had achieved this triumph amongst many across the globe who actually were trying to be the first too. Those who know their history can sight Samuel Pierpont Langley as a good example.
One of those who came close was an extraordinary man who ran a Marblehead Yacht building facility, M. Sterling Burgess. He actually co-designed with August M. Herring a flying machine that he dubbed, “The Flying Fish”. In 1910, they were successful in flying it in a short hop off the frozen surface of Chebacco Lake in Hamilton. Needing a reliable runway, they began to build a hanger and a runway on Plum Island.
As they began to experiment, their activities began to generate quite a bit of excitement in the area and many of the flights became headline news at the local paper. Onlookers would hang out at the Plum Island Hotel and take carriages through the dunes to watch the flights. In some cases, crashes were made causing quite a stir in town.
Their activities and their successful flights did not go unnoticed. They won a contract with the Wright Brothers to build aircraft at their Marblehead facility. In the end, The Burgess Manufacturing Company manufactured several hundred by the end of World War One making them the second largest airplane builder in the country.
But what of the hanger and runway out at Plum Island left behind in 1910?
As you pass the first parking lot in the Wildlife preserve, you come to a short rise and bend in the road and on the left in a depression is the location of the hanger (long gone) and you will notice to your right that the estuary comes very close to the road. Just beyond the curve of the stream, the runway began.
Sometimes, great moments of history simply do not leave any memorials!*
Most visitors will simply drive by oblivious of the significance if it was not for a small interpretive plaque at the second parking lot.
If you too want to at least see the spot, here is the general location.
* Where the first women’s High School in America stood in Newburyport is now a parking lot, Theophilus Parsons’ house is now a parochial school and the Putnam School is nothing now but an open field; alas, sometimes time marches on and tramples much in its wake!