Airports of the Saugatuck-Douglas Area
The Saugatuck airport was a short-lived and unsuccessful project that left the municipality with a tract forever known as the "old airport."
There was movement for an airport in Saugatuck as early as 1932 when a
landing strip was prepared on the Roger Reed farm on the New
Shortly afterwards a 154 acre tract on 134th Avenue just east of 63rd Street was purchased by the Village of Saugatuck and in 1936 a $12,301 WPA project was approved to grade and construct two runways. After reporting that "a gang of men are working on the airport project, more will be employed as the snow leaves" in the February 14, 1936, newspaper, little is said about progress. In 1940 a letter writer complained that the village "had no right" to buy the land. "It's no good as an airport, and we don't need one anyway." According to figures he presents the village purchased 170 acres at the cost of $1,750, but sold the timber on the tract for $600, making the total cost only $1,150.
In 1948 the village officially gave up on the airport idea and planted
6,000 white spruce on the land, leading to its second
local name "the Christmas Tree
farm." The land is still owned
by the City of
Recently the Historical Society
received a box of records and other paper artifacts from the
In June of 1946 an airport opened for business just south of Douglas,
although it was usually called the
In July local pilots joined together to paint the roof of a building in
each town with the name of the village and directions and distance to the
airport. In Saugatuck the roof of the Jones garage carried the information, in
SKY HIGH FLYING SERVICE
Student Instruction Phone Saugatuck 43,567 Charter Trips
Harl Schneider was one of the earliest licensed pilots in the
They bought the old John Flagg farm just
The airport was officially known as the Saugatuck-Douglas airport, but
some bills made out to the facility use the name
More common destinations were Manistee,
During World War II many men flew planes who had never even ridden in one before, and many others were exposed to the miracle of flight. The post-war GI bill allowed many of the returning servicemen to attend college and would also pay for the flying course that resulted in a private pilot's license in the interest of "Vocational Rehabilitation." Pilots who had earned their wings flying military planes were another source of income as they adapted their skills to civilian life or simply revisited the thrill of flying without the combat responsibilities.
Payment directly from the federal government for veterans taking private pilot training was one of the major sources of income for the airport. One balance sheet shows that in 1948 the operation actually made a profit of over $1,500.
In a 1950 Airman's
Albert Crane said he remembers the first day the fuel tank was filled. He had dug the hole, the tank was installed and covered. That evening the West Michigan Oil Company truck had put some gas in it, but did not have sufficient in the truck to completely top it off. That night the first really big rain of the season struck the area and the water-soaked ground began to swell. The tank came up out of the ground, with the pump on top.
Lloyd Dornan, one of the former students,
sometimes gave rides to tourists and was at the airport one day when radio
broadcaster Paul Harvey flew in. He asked that his plane be refueled, "Full, and I mean right to the top." Dornan did the
best he could and when he was finished
When students under the GI Bill had finished their flying courses, there were not enough local people seeking lessons to make ends meet. The airport stayed open for several more years, at least as late as 1951, but was used only by a few local people who owned their own planes and an occasional transient.
Harl and Lucille Schneider separated and Lucille married Chester Downer, also a pilot, but who also had an interest in auto racing. About 1952 they called Crane and asked him to build an auto racing track near the back of the property, essentially behind the airport runways. In addition to the quarter-mile dirt track Crane built bleacher seating on banks of earth. The wooden planks that customers sat on were held in place with stakes. It was considered safer than conventional bleachers because customers could not fall through.
It was called the Airpark
1. Any American make or year engine for open competition,
2. Engines may be installed in any position. Drivers protected by firewall,
3. Any transmission permitted. Gear change optional,
4. Carburetion, ignition and fuel optional,
5. Gas tanks of heavy steel may be inside securely fastened, with firewall between tank and driver.
6. Four wheel brakes compulsory and in good working order,
7. Intake manifold of any kind, but may be reworked. Exhaust headers permitted.
1. Any vehicle will be allowed to run as long as it is stock,
2. Bodies and engine, transmission and rear end, stock to the eye,
3. Cars between years 1932 and 1953.
4. Any overhead valve has to be run in same chassis in which manufacturer installed engine.
In addition to car races a few other events were held at the Airpark
Portions of the land were later sold as home sites. The building that housed the old Airport Grill still exists remodeled as a residence. The road to the north is what is left of the east-west runway.