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Airport history

October 7, 2008
By Howard Riley,

There have been many stories about the economic impact of the Adirondack Regional Airport located in Lake Clear, and what it means to the residents of the Tri-Lakes, but probably what not many know is how it all began.

So, again, I plunged into the depths of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library, and there, with the help of Curator Michelle Tucker, found an original copy of the program dedicating the airport.

The airport is born

Article Photos

Back when we got all dressed up to fly and the airport was serviced by Colonial Airlines whose slogan was “Safety is no accident.”
(Courtesy of the Adirondack Room of the Saranac Lake Free Library)

Talk about history in the making - in the fall of 1940, a group of men were sitting around a table pouring over a map of the Saranac Lake region trying to find the best place to locate an airport.

These guys were members of the Saranac Lake Planning Board, then chaired by Andrew W. Callanan, and they were not optimistic about the task, given the mountainous nature of the area.

In addition to that obstacle, the U.S. Government, who would fund the project had one restriction; to be acceptable to the federal government, the land had to be publicly owned.

Then, "to the surprise of all concerned," according to one report, the big topographical map spread out on that table revealed a plateau large enough for an airport located within a few miles of the village.

The land the men spotted, however, was not publicly owned but was part of the holdings of the Paul Smith's Electric Companyremember, Paul Smith's College did not open until 1946.

Now read this: "Since no other tract of suitable terrain was to be found within a radius of some forty miles, the whole effort might have bogged down but for the public-spirited cooperation of the Paul Smith's Electric Company which, in the interests of the development of the region, immediately deeded the 1200-acre tract to the Town of Harrietstown without cost."

This effort all began with an announcement earlier in 1940 from Washington that the federal government had appropriated funds for the building of a system of airports throughout the country.

Events apparently moved very quickly now that the requirement of public ownership of the land was fulfilled. There was an inspection and approval of the site by federal aviation officials followed by approval of a federal expenditure (it doesn't give the amount in this report) for construction of a Class III airport. I expect that not much was done there after WWII started in 1941.

Jumping ahead

The historical report of the founding of the airport ends with the approval of the site and funds and then reads, like so many other documents, with the phrase that I have learned to hate "and the rest is history." But it fails to give the history from 1940 until 1949 with the official dedication of the airport.

The dedication, which was the official opening of the then-Saranac Lake Airport, was a huge deal. The opening address was by the Hon. Joseph J. O'Connell, Jr., Chairman of the Civil Aeronautics Board, followed by the Hon. Claude B. Friday, Director of the state Bureau of Aviation.

Jumping back

Next week, we will get back to the dedication of the airport in 1949, but it obviously was a functioning airport at least three years before that dedication. Here are excerpts from an Enterprise story from June 20, 1946.

"Daily passenger service by air from New York city to Saranac Lake and Lake Placid via the Lake Clear airport will be started with an incoming passenger plane late Friday afternoon. The trip from New York to Lake Clear will be made in 90 minutes in a 21-passenger Douglas luxury liner and will cost the passenger $20 plus federal tax.

"The first plane ever to be piloted from New York City to the Lake Clear airport on a regular passenger schedule is expected to arrive at about 5 o'clock Friday afternoon. It will be met at the airport by County Supervisors (the story must mean Franklin & Essex counties) Matthew M. Munn and Willis Wells with their official families and the Mayors of Saranac Lake and Lake Placid and officials of all the surrounding communities.

"Expected as an unofficial welcoming committee are several thousands of carloads (I told that reporter ten thousand times not to exaggerate) of people from Saranac Lake, Lake Placid, Tupper Lake and other camps, hamlets and villages for 30 miles around.

"The event will have an historical and commercial significance equivalent to that of the puffing appearance of the first locomotive to slide along steel rails into Saranac Lake and Lake Placid 59 years ago."

The airline was Resort Airlines, Inc.

Stay tuned for part 2 next week.

(Editor's note: This column was published in the Oct. 4 print edition of the Enterprise but was mistakenly not posted online until today, Oct. 7.)



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