By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 23, 2012 at 5:04 AM

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.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.