A Wild Goose Chase

After yesterday’s post about Miller Field and the smaller, more numerous airports of a hundred years ago, Julia Manglitz was kind enough to point me at “Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields“, a website devoted to that niche topic, nationwide. The New York City entires were a combination of things I knew and things I did not, so I’m going to dive in a bit. Today’s little-known airfield is Curtiss Field in the Bronx, which got me going on a wild goose chase.

Actually, this was more of a wild goose chase in pursuit of a wild goose chase. The short version is that the airport was never actually built and its site later became famous for two entirely-different reasons. Goose chase number one: thanks to Glenn Curtiss’s contributions in the early days of flight, there are seven different airports named after him (at some time) listed in Wikipedia. It would not surprise me to hear that list is incomplete.

Goose chase number two: the website has some street maps showing the location of Curtiss Field with no detail. The site in the east Bronx, adjacent to the Hutchinson River, was in contention for an airport in the late 1920s, and I don’t have ready access to a better map of that area that late. But the 1918 Sanborn map for the area shows why the Curtiss-Wright Corporations was able to buy so much land in the area: it was a largely-underwater swamp with streets planned but not built. Most of this map would have been part of the airport:

The small type on nearly all of the streets reads “(NOT OPEN)”, which is to say that those streets were at that time purely theoretical. Mill Creek was still a real creek, uninterrupted by streets. The 1924 aerial survey of the city makes it pretty clear:

The Hutchinson River is on the right, running up and down the page, with Mill Creek feeding into it near the crossing of the index lines. East 222nd Street runs through the swamp until it abruptly ends at Mill Creek rather than crossing the Hutchinson on a bridge as the map hopefully suggests. Everything north of 222nd appears to be swamp with a handful of trees, not an airport.

The depression killed off the Curtiss-Wright project and the land sat empty until the alter 1950s, when an amusement park called Freedomland U.S.A. was built there. The amusement park failed in a few years, but the more-or-less improved and drained land was now more valuable and became the site of Co-op City, a huge private housing development. Co-op City is well-known in New York, and Freedomland is known as the answer to the trivia question of what was on Co-op City’s site before it. But Curtiss Field is an unbuilt obsolete airport in a swamp that no longer exists, which is about as obscure as you can get.

The top image is a Curtiss-Wright Travel-Air B-4000 of the late 1920s, as shot by Jerry Gunner.

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