Milwaukee's aviation history began in Currie Park
Can you imagine Mitchell International Airport out on the Northwest Side? Would it be more convenient, or less?
But for some issues of topography, it could have happened that way.
One of the first municipal airports in the country was located in what is now Currie Park. While most of us now think of Currie Park as a mecca for golf, or for its popular dog park, on July 3, 1919, the Milwaukee County Park Commission opened the county's first airfield there.
The western part of the park was graded to create an area suitable for takeoffs and landings.
And, on Aug. 27, 1919, Alfred Lawson launched his groundbreaking Lawson Airliner – America's first commercial aircraft – from Currie Park. The twin-engine, 16-passenger plane's demonstration flight stopped off in New York City and Washington, D.C., before returning to Currie on Nov. 15.
In June 1926 the city's first airmail departed from Currie Park's airfield, via by the Charles Dickinson Line, which stopped off in Milwaukee and LaCrosse on its route connecting Chicago to St. Paul.
But aviation was beginning to really take off and it grew ever clearer that the small airport at Currie Park was inadequate.
The problem was that a railway line to the west and a river to the east prevented the expansion of the Currie Park facility. And so the county board looked elsewhere. It found Hamilton Field, a 162-acre plot of land a mile west of Cudahy.
Hamilton, named for local aviator and propeller manufacturer Thomas Hamilton, was purchased on Oct. 5, 1926, for $150,000 and the following month the Currie Park airport was shut down.
In July 1927, the first Mitchell terminal – aka the Hirschbuehl Farmhouse – was opened and Northwest Airlines launched service from MKE to Chicago and the Twin Cities. A month later, no less than Charles Lindbergh visited the new airport.
In 1940 a new terminal was opened, but there was so much growth that in little more than a decade the city had outgrown it.
In 1944, there were just over 4,500 passenger plane arrivals and departures at Mitchell. A decade later that number grew to more than 52,000. More than 230,000 passengers arrived at the airport in 1954, up from just under 19,000 a decade earlier.
Consequently, by 1955, Mitchell had swollen to 1,376 acres and the airport was two miles long by a mile and a half wide. The county had spent more than $10 million on the airport, along with another $4 million in federal dollars.
In the meantime, memories of the Currie Park airport mostly began to fade, until in 1969, a historic marker was erected on the site. You can see it as you approach the golf dome from the parking lot.
It's hard to imagine there could have been an airport there, but it you close your eyes you just might hear the buzz of biplane.
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