Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Eastholm Aviation Field

Schenectadians flocked to Eastholm Aviation Field in 1919 to experience flight with local aviator Philip D. Lucas.
Photograph from Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.
 One of our members recently donated some snapshots of the Eastholm Aviation Field near the intersection of Consaul Road and Balltown Road in what was, at that time, Niskayuna. Two of the photographs were recognizable as images that Edward Haury had shared with Larry Hart, who had published two of the photos in his "Tales of Old Dorp" newspaper column in the Schenectady Gazette.

The airfield was first used in early August 1919 and was established for the Aerial Activities Corporation, a business chartered in July 1919, which located its primary office in Schenectady. Lt. Philip D. Lucas, a World War I veteran and a pilot, gave exhibitions and carried passengers under the auspices of the company. After picking up his Curtiss plane from Mineola, New York, Lucas began the season in late July flying from "the Schermerhorn field on the river road." A week later, a newspaper article annouced the construction of the airfield near Balltown Road and Consaul Road on land owned by the Eastholm Realty Company. On August 11, 1919, the city's common council passed an ordinance authorizing an expenditure of $50 yearly to lease the airfield. General Electric offered to equip the field with lighting without cost to the city.

During the course of Lucas' two-month flying season in Schenectady in 1919, he took over 500 trips in the air. Many Schenectadians went along with him to experience flight for the first time, including many prominent citizens, among them Mayor Charles Simon and Fire Chief Yates. Women were especially encouraged to try flying; Lucas held special "ladies' days" at Eastholm Aviation Field and in a September 10, 1919 article in the Schenectady Gazette, he "expressed admiration of the pluckiness of the many women who had flown with him in Schenectady . . . when the flights end the flyers of the fair sex are the most enthusiastic of his passengers." Although his operations were based in Schenectady, Lucas also traveled to other cities in New England and central New York to demonstrate flying to the public.

Advertisement for flying with Philip D. Lucas at Eastholm Aviation Field from September 13, 1919 Schenectady Gazette.
Newspaper image retrieved via
In addition to Lucas' flights, Eastholm Aviation Field also hosted an "aviation parade" as a recruiting drive for the U.S. Army Air Service in August. In October, vaudeville entertainer and aviator Hope Eden flew her personal airplane over Schenectady several times before landing at the field.

Scene at Eastholm Aviation Field. From Grems-Doolittle Library Photograph Collection.

We have not found any indication of the airfield's use after its initial 1919 season. Philip D. Lucas is listed as an employee of the General Electric company in the 1920 city directory. Within the next few years, Lucas moved to the Watertown area, where he married Frances Fagan. He went on to serve as an engineer for Bethlehem Steel in Chile, then entered the Air Force during World War II, retiring from military service with the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the war, Lucas relocated to Washington, D.C., where he was connected with the Civil Aeronautics Department and served at the National Airport. He died in 1971 in St. Petersburg, Florida, at the age of 78. The area that made up the Eastholm Aviation Field was developed in the 1920s, and is now part of the Woodlawn neighborhood in the city of Schenectady.

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