MENDON AIRPORT AND THE PROPERTY UPON WHICH IT STOOD
By Paul A. Doucette of Mendon
MENDON AIRPORT PROPERTY OWNERS
The Nipmuc Tribe owned the land prior to the landing of the Pilgrims and colonization of Massachusetts.
1680 -- 1715 Reverend Grindall Rawson, the first white settler to own the property, became Mendon's minister
following the re-settlement of the town after its destruction from the King Philip War. He was a Harvard
graduate and a classmate of Rev. Cotton Mather (Salem Witch trials). His churches were the second and third
meeting houses at Founders' Park. He was a fluent speaker of the Nipmuc Indian language and was useful to
government officials in communicating with members of the tribe. He likely had a home here replaced by a
newer home built by Calvin Smith.
1765 -- 1802 Colonel Calvin Smith who was an officer in Mendon's militia during the Revolutionary War. He
used his property as a training field to prepare the town's soldiers for military activities. He built the house on
the corner of Emerson Street and Hastings Street which served as a residence for many town citizens until the
1802 -- 1818 Attorney Seth Hastings bought the house and land in 1802. He owned several buildings in town,
so it is not known how long he and his family lived there. He was a congressman, bank president, lawyer,
judge of Worcester Superior Court of Sessions, town treasurer, school committeeman, and bakery owner. Part
of the land was used as a military training field.
1818 -- 1828 Ambassador Jonathan Russell bought the property when he returned home from Europe in
1818. He and his family entertained "lavishly." He demonstrated his love for his country by serving as an
ambassador of peace before and after the War of 1812. President James Madison appointed him Charge'
D'Affaires to France, ruled by Napoleon, in 1810 and Ambassador to England prior to the War of 1812. The War
was officially over on December 24, 1814. Both sides agreed in the Treaty of Ghent which allowed everything to
be as it was before the war. The terms of agreement were negotiated by five highly skilled American
commissioners: Jonathan Russell, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, James Bayard, and Albert Gallatin.
After the War he served as Ambassador to Sweden and Norway from 1814 to 1818. The focus of his career had
been influenced by his patriotism and his will to improve international relations.
When his diplomatic career was over, he served as a representative in the Massachusetts Legislature and as a
member of the United States Congress. He was an active and generous member of his church and a
participant in local government. Jonathan Russell lived at the corner of Hastings and Emerson Street in
Mendon. His first wife was Sylvia Ammidon, the daughter of Colonel Philip Ammidon. She grew up at 4 Main
Street at Ammidon Inn (presently Mendon Antique Center).
The house was built by Colonel Calvin Smith. This is how it appeared c.1870 when the Butler family occupied it.
The guide mentions the house being on State Route 126. This was later renamed State Route 16.
1831 - Map James Arnold
1840's Eli Pond
1870 - Map Hiram Butler
1885 Albert Darling -- Jewelry Merchant
Albert’s brother, Homer Darling, was a very successful dairy farmer, but it was his role as an innkeeper that
enhanced his income and attracted wealthy New York vacationers. In 1866, he and his father, Newbury Darling,
purchased the beautiful federal farmhouse at 73 North Avenue (later site of the Davenport and Lowell’s farms).
They converted the large horse barn behind the house to summer bedrooms and constructed a large piazza so
that guests in their rocking chairs could enjoy the scenic view of the verdant eastern slope leading to Muddy Brook.
Homer's success as an innkeeper apparently served as an inspiration to his brother, Albert, who in 1885
purchased the former Jonathan Russell house and converted it to a summer boarding house. His renovations
included adding a wrap-around porch giving the historic home a completely new look. Its location at the corner of
Hastings and Emerson Streets was along a well-travelled stage coach route. The Darling house was always full
with summer vacationers. They capitalized on Mendon's reputation for having clean, invigorating air and pure
water. Vacationers seeking an escape from the industrial world and city life found Mendon to be a special place.
1927 Phineas Millis –purchased the land from the Darlings and began planning for the construction of an airport.
Brief Biography of Phineas A. Millis
Name: Phineas A. Millis
Spouse: Bertha D. Millis, Born 1904
Birth: 1895 - Location - Tennessee
Residence: 1930 - Mendon, Worcester County, Massachusetts
Death: 1962 - Dade, Florida, United States
Buried: Oak Grove & Vine Hills Cemetery, Plymouth Mass.
Above is a rare photo of Phineas Millis next to one of his planes.
A generic sign advertising airplane rides.
The deed transferring ownership from the Darling Family to Phineas A. & Bertha
D. Millis the on December 27, 1927 the property which became the airport.
pictured was at the time of the sale to the Wiersma Brothers in
1951. The Millis’ had sold off a few parcels prior to this sale.
the airport in 1928, the 3rd in Worcester County.
The Airport House which was formerly the Russell-Darling House not long after the
sale. It would forever be known as the Airport House even after its demise. This is the
front of the house which faced Emerson Street. The front faced Rte. 126 (now Rte. 16).
You can just see airport buildings and a tower behind and to the left of the house.
The site of the Airport House today (2014).
Pictured is the hangar shortly after it was opened. The name and directional arrow are not yet painted
on its roof, indicting it was newly opened.
This is how the airport was officially described by the Massachusetts Aero History Organization during
its early years 1928-1935.
Mendon-1928-1929-1931-1935- Mendon Airport is a Commercial field; owned and managed by P.A.
Millis of Mendon the operator of Millis Air Service. Commercial Operators were Herman C. Ryan and
Arthur F. Scrutiny both of Milford. The airport’s altitude is 450’ above sea level and it is L shaped
comprising 108 acres with 3 landing strips: one 1,500’ by 600’ in a NE/SW direction; the second 1,700’
by 1,100’ in a NW/SE direction and the 3rd 1,800’ by 1,100’ in a N/S direction. It is sod with rock
drainage and slopes W to E. The entire field is available except the un-cleared SW portion. The word
“MENDON” is imbedded in the field with an arrow pointing north. Buildings and trees to North of the
airport and there is a pole line to the W and NW; Facilities for servicing aircraft, day and night.
Pictured from a Boston Globe article dated October 13, 1929 which reads in part; one of the thrills
of the air circus held at the Mendon Airport recently was furnished by Miss Henrietta Appell, age 16
of Uxbridge. She holds a student’s license issued by the Department of Commerce and is the
youngest aviatrix in the State, one of the youngest in the East, and is the youngest to hold this
license in New England.
She made her first solo flight on Sept. 18th. At the October 6th air show she made her first public
appearance. She went up in the plane to 2000 feet, performed three loops and made a perfect
landing. She received the hearty acclaim of the 6000 spectators and, when she left the field it was
necessary for her to have police protection due to the enthusiasm of the crowd.
Also featured at the show was a dog fight which continued until one flyer was forced to the ground; a dead
stick landing competition with motors turned off at 4000 ft. and landing at a given spot, and a parachute
drop by Daredevil Dave of Virginia who turned several somersaults before pulling the ring. 18 aircraft
participated in the 2 day event. From the Boston Globe, Oct. 5, 1929.
Tragedy struck on August 15, 1931 when the three-place commercial
biplane piloted by Joseph Frietus with two female passengers crashed
shortly after take-off. The plane had reached 200 feet when the aircraft’s
motor went dead. The pilot tried to nose the plane up and make a dead
stick landing, but was unable to do so. The plane crashed in swampy
land about a mile and a half from the take-off point. One of the women
died shortly after the crash.
The second passenger, her niece sustained serious injuries and died
two days later. It was their first flight and the first crash at Mendon Airport.
An article in the Boston Globe dated August 23
stated that the airshow scheduled at the Mendon
Airport for Sept. 12th and 13th will be held, weather
permitting, despite the accident.
Boston Globe article reporting on the opening of the two day air meet held in
Mendon September 12 & 13, 1931, just one month at the fatal plane crash.
At the airshow on Sept. 13th tragedy was narrowly averted when a new Travelair plane with pilot
Val Chick and two passengers getting ready for the flight, burst into flames as the motor was
being warmed. The pilot and two passengers jumped from the burning aircraft which was
heavily damaged at an estimated loss of $8000 before firemen arrived. Had they been in flight,
a repeat of the previous tragedy might have occurred.
This may be the plane Jessie Deacon mentioned, during an interview. He remembered going
to air shows when he was a boy (around the early 1930’s). The planes were the old fabric-
winged biplanes. At one show one of the airplanes got too hot and the wings caught fire. Putt
Lowell pulled up in the fire truck and put the fire out.
importance Mendon Airport had in Greater Boston.
Jesse Deacon had a friend who remembers that as a boy he and his brother pulled weeds at the Mendon
Airport in exchange for a plane ride. One summer for weeks they pulled up on their bicycles and pulled
weeds all day. When the time came for the big ride, they figured they’d get to fly over Boston or some other
far-away spot – they ended up just going in a big circle around the airport! After all those weeds!
The first mail flight out of Mendon was sponsored by P. A. Millis in May of 1938. The actual date of the
flight was May 19th. The date ranges of May 15-21, 1938 are the dates for National Air Mail Week.
First day flight of the U. S. Mail Service from Mendon
Airport postal commemorative from Wayne Wagner.
The plane is shown as it is loaded up with mail for its flight.
When finished loading, the engine is started and the plane is ready for take-off.
The Air Mail plane speeds down the runway to begin the first air mail service out of Mendon.
A photo taken in July 1938 at the airport of one of my favorite planes, the Stinson Reliant.
This was an upscale private plane usually owned by well to do businessmen.
Below - A series of 9 photographs taken during the 1930’s.
This is an aerial photo of the airport taken around the same
time as the previous photo. The hangar is indicated by #1
and #2 is the airport house next to Emerson Street with the
other buildings behind.
This is an aerial shot also from 1938. The red “arrow” points to the
location of a navigational beacon which was on a hill south of the airport.
You can see an arrow marker on the ground which points towards Boston.
These beacons sat on a concrete platform and had giant arrows, also
made from concrete, pointing the way. This and many of the other maps
used in this document were taken from the internet (Historic Aerials.com).
Above is an undated article about the purchase of the
property where the airport beacon was located. A rental fee
was paid to compensate the owner’s for use of the site.
Topographical map from 1944. The beacon appears on this map, but none appear on previous
maps. According to Wayne Wagner, however, the beacon was there at least as of 1940. Why
the 1943 map does not show it is unknown, but could be a wartime censorship. Although 1944
was deep into the war, it may not have been published until late ‘44 or even 1945 when the tide
had turned in our favor and we had less to fear about enemy air attacks.
The Airway Beacon (at center) shown on a topographical map from 1964. By
1971 no airway beacon appears on the topo map. Topographical maps from
1965-1970 are not available on this site. The beacon tower was removed
some time in this during these years.
In 1923, the United States Congress funded money for a sequential lighted airway of 50 foot
tall beacon towers built from numbered angle iron sections with concrete footings which
included enormous arrows measuring between 50 and 70 feet long. The towers had a rotating
gas-powered light with 5,000 candlepower that would flash every ten seconds. In clear
weather the beacon lights could be seen from a distance of 10 miles high. Below the main
white beacon, a secondary set of red and green lights would flash a Morse code letter to
identify the beacon to pilots. Engineers believed the variations of beacon height along hills and
valleys would allow pilots to see them both above ground fog, and below cloud layers and help
them trace their way along their route in bad weather conditions and particularly at night, which
was a more efficient time to fly. Daytime navigation followed rivers, landmarks, and arrows
pointing north on top of hangars, barns and other buildings and the beacons themselves.
A small outbuilding was needed, with a generator for power if none was available. Some
buildings also served as weather stations. The lighted airway was deployed by the
Department of Commerce. It was managed by the Bureau of Standards Aeronautical Branch.
Lighted emergency airfields were also funded along the route every 15–20 miles. This was
the transcontinental airmail route system from New York to San Francisco. The Boston to New
York local route, which included the beacon light in Mendon, linked it into this system.
Construction of the system began in 1924.
The beacons were used mainly for night navigation
and were built primarily for the air mail service as can
be seen from the pamphlet cover and air mail stamp.
Navigation and radio technology improved to allow flight without land-
based visual guidance. The Low Frequency Radio Range (LFRR)
system began to replace older visual-based systems and the
government no longer funded them.
After the program was de-funded, various beacons would continue to
operate in limited capacities into the 1940s. At that time, the
Department of Commerce decommissioned and disassembled
most of the towers for their steel, a resource in short supply and
desperately needed to support the war effort.
The last airway beacon was officially shut down in 1973, although the
Montana Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division
reportedly continues to operate around 19 updated beacons in the
mountains of Western Montana.
The beacon tower in Mendon was closed down sometime during the
1960’s. The article below is undated and from the Milford Daily News.
How the Beacon Tower Platform appears today (2014).
Forest growth, leaves and other debris have covered much of the site.
Doug Taylor remembered a biplane which took off to the north and was too low
to clear the wires at the end of the runway. The pilot banked left and tried flying
down Millville Road, but unfortunately crashed into a tree. The photo is not from
Mendon, but the crash would have looked like this.
THE 1938 HURRICANE
Above is a great photo of all airport buildings after the great
hurricane. The “Airport House” can be seen at left.
The 1938 Hurricane devastates the airport.
The worst hurricane to hit the area occurred on Sept. 21, 1938. The destruction was
widespread and extensive destroying the big hangar and damaging the airport house.
This photo by Doug Taylor shows the hangar from a slightly different angle.
Another view of the collapsed hangar.
The airport house after the hurricane. Damage to the structure and the hangar and some other buildings
can be seen behind and to the left of the house. The track of the massive storm is pictured below.
Below are aerial photos of the airport taken on Christmas Day 1940.
At this date the ‘Quonset Hut” style hangar has not been built. See
the photos below from 1947 where this hangar can be seen. It was
likely built sometime between the years 1940-1945. The plane next
to the runway is there in the photo, but the other one is not.
A short time after war was declared after Pearl Harbor, two
army and one navy plane came to Mendon Airport. According to
the article; “It is quite evident that from now on the army or naval
planes will be stationed continually at the field”.
New hangars and other buildings were either built or reconstructed. This is how the
airport was described by the Massachusetts Aero History Organization in 1945.
1945- Airport landing facilities included a seeded strip running in a N/S direction 1,800’
by 200’; a sod strip from NE/SW 1,100’ by 100’ an Allway sod and seeded strip: 1,800’
by 150’. There are 96 usable acres with an irregular surface. Navigation facilities
include boundary day markers, and a wind cone. Obstructions include pole lines along
the N, NW, and NE and trees and buildings N, S, SE, and NNW of the airport. Services:
there are 3 hangars, an office. Minor repairs can be performed, 80 octane aviation fuel
is available, with storage facilities, training, and day service.
This aerial photo shows the three hangars.
and other airport buildings. What may be an airplane can barely be seem in this
fuzzy photo half way up and just to the right of the runway. It appears the “airport
house” is still standing in both pictures (this and the photo above).
A biplane is being refueled in this photo from David Lowell. Leo
Wiersma mentioned there was a concrete pad not far from the
Quonset style hangar where planes were fueled (see photo below).
The “Quonset Hut” hangar can be seen in the background
indicating the photo was taken sometime during the 1940’s.
the airport. Peggy was one of the lucky ones who actually got to fly in it!
Years ago Jesse Deacon’s wife, Shirley, worked for a prominent surgeon
(Dr. Francis King) who was a flight buff and a pilot. He kept his plane at
the Mendon airport and offered to give her a ride. It was her first ride in a
plane and she was nervous she’d get air sick – he assured her she
would be fine, and a nurse from the office went up with them as well.
They brought along paper bags, just in case! Luckily she did great and no
paper bags were put to use.
A Piper Cub ad from 1946 showing Millis Air Service, Mendon, Mass. as a Piper
aircraft dealer. Their dealer name is listed below the ad. This is a color ad with
the dealer names attached to appear more colorful for the presentation.
Above is similar ad from the Boston Globe (1946/1947) in b & w newsprint. I attached
the list of dealer’s to the color ad to show it is much more dramatic and appealing it
appears. More ads can be seen at the end of Part II. Note Millis Air Service of Mendon,
Mass. Listed at the top of the third column of Piper Aircraft dealers.
This is how the airport appeared shortly before it closed. There are what appear to be two Piper Cubs next to the
hangar. Millis Airways was a Piper dealer.
Here's an interesting tid-bit from Jesse Deacon. Pete’s Bluebird Restaurant in Bellingham was named for his blue
airplane which Pete flew out of Mendon.
the buying and selling of cows, horses, antiques and furniture from his father. John also
worked at the Mendon airport and, as a young boy, took flying lessons. On his 16th
birthday, he got his pilot's license in the morning and his driver's license in the afternoon.
Soon after, also at the age of sixteen, he and his friend Stanley "Cooch" Nuthall joined the
US Navy on the buddy system. John became a fighter pilot in the South Pacific. He flew
many missions from Hawaii to the Philippines, Guam and Japan.
John flew often from the Mendon Airport and he is reputed to be the last person to fly out of
the airport before it closed in 1951.
The two photos were taken on the same
day not long after the airport closed.
Although this incident was not directly related to the airport, Dr. Ashkins
flew out of Draper Airport for this flight to Florida as Mendon Airport was
closed years earlier. The doctor used to fly regularly from Mendon Airport
prior to its closing. He was 71 years old and able to swim ashore in the
cold winter water after his plane crashed into the ocean. Sadly his pet
dog drowned after being trapped in the rapidly sinking aircraft.
the Wiersma Brothers. The article states; “While to airport was in
operation no fatal accidents occurred”. This is an error as we know,
at least two were killed from the crash of an airplane. The Wiersmas
did, however, farm the property.
Deed for the sale to the Wiersma Bros. On April 25, 1951
P. A. Millis sold to Wiersma Brothers who farmed the land.
Not long after the airport was sold, disaster struck when one
of the former hangars caught fire and was totally destroyed
On the night of January 16, 1952, fire destroyed the former hangar, which was just off Emerson Street, owned by the
Cornelius, George, Arthur, and Harry Wiersma. The premises were rented to Anderson Bros. Co. of Dallas, TX who
were constructing the natural gas pipeline in the area and was used as a tool & work shop. Two bulldozers, a truck
and tractor were stored inside and all were lost in the blaze. The equipment was fully and hangar partially insured. It
was never rebuilt.
A short-circuit reportedly caused the fire which at first was thought to be of a slight nature, until drums of gasoline
exploded and within seconds the metal 40 x 60 foot structure was an inferno. At one point black smoke shot nearly
200 feet high in the air by the exploding gasoline.
Water was secured by Fire Chief Harold F. Lowell and his men from a hydrant by Clayton Parkinson’s greenhouse
beneath which a well proved a plentiful source of water.
Leo Wiersma related this story to us and pointed out the smaller barn which burned. The larger barn, to its right in the
photo, was used to store hay. Luckily, the fire did not spread to this potentially flammable building.
P. A. Millis sold the airport during the previous year and purchased another airport in New York.
On June 24, 1960 the Barrows family purchased a portion of the property beginning at the south
side of Emerson Street and was it used for farming as well.
On March 31, 1969 Jesse White purchased the property still owned by the Wiersma famiiy and
opened a boat dealership and rented the farmland. The article above describes the purchase.
John Hogarth related the fact he started his pattern & fabrication forge business, which later moved
to Uxbridge, in the Quonset hut style hangar!
The metal building on the corner of Emerson and Hastings Street was built under Jesse White's
ownership. The Globe photo from 1969 features the metal building which is on the site of the old
“airport house”. The description below the photo of 13 acres is certainly not just this building
alone. It must refer to the complex of buildings in the former airport which were there and also
put up by Jesse. I was told it now houses a magnetic paint business, whatever that is. Maybe
whatever they paint points true north!!!
Jesse White’s, once the largest boat dealer in New England and, according to a
Boston Globe article dated Sept. 7, 1969; “the countries busiest distributor of boats
and snowmobiles," hosted an area wide boat show in 1969. It attracted some of the
top dealer’s in the marine trade business. The facility at the old airport boasted five
new buildings, once of which was the large hangar looking building used for such
events and for storing inventory. Sadly by 1983, the business was all but gone.
Above is the plot plan of most of the former airport property when it was sold in 1983.
Other owners of the property or portions of the property follow:
May 26, 1983 - - Earl and Wesley Rogers purchased it for farming.
July 17, 1985 -- Al Carboni purchased part of the property for housing known as
Wesley Estates: White Road, Kelley Rd. and Wesley Drive. The houses are now
Oct. 21, 1986 -- Billy Hood (WMK Developers) -- bought the portion of the property for
the Country Hill Plaza which includes small stores; among them was Air Port Video.
These are aerial shots of the airport buildings and what was there over 4 different periods when Jessie
White owned the property and 1998 when Bill Hood owned it.
The keys to the numbers in the four aerial photos are:
1. The hangar located next to Emerson Street. By 1978 it was taken down.
2. The Quonset hut shaped hangar which is still here.
3. Former site of the airport house (gone in the 1967 photo and replaced with the tin building where the
VNA was and a magnetic paint business is now.
4. The large hangar like building erected by Jessie White to store his boats was not there in 1967, but
was by 1971 and is still standing today (2014).
During the 2000’s -- Kevin Meehan acquired the Country Hill Plaza which was renamed Hood Plaza. It
includes several small stores and has been more successful since this purchase.
The “Quonset Hut” type hangar as it appears today in the top photo. The second
photo is the large hangar-like structure built by Jesse White to store his boats. The
bottom photo is Hood Plaza at night now owned by Kevin Meehan. There are homes
built along Kelly Road, Wesley Drive and White Rd. which are privately owned. I do
not know who owns the buildings at the airport site itself which contain several
business including Sudbury Granite, Blue Magic Auto Supplies, and others.
A current aerial view of the bulk of what once was the Mendon Airport.
A map of the airport in Smithfield, and what is around it,
where Sabbie Ludovici moved after he left Mendon.
Copy of the Mendon Airport report from Committee for Aeronautics
Progress Report from 1937 follows on the next five pages.
hurricane. If you increase the magnification view on your screen you
will be able to see more detail in this and the other pictures.
This page was created by Paul Doucette
or are of the actual mail plane pictured in the previous text.
A “Challenger” type aircraft in front of the Mendon Airport
hangar getting ready to take off and in flight over the field.
I would like to thank/acknowledge those who helped with this document by
providing space, information, photos, research, and where to find things:
Britney Anderson Jesse Deacon Berneta (Lowell) DeVries
Amy Dewitt Patrice Doucette Joy (Murch) & Carl Gaskil
Warren Goodnow Dick Grady John Hogarth
David & Jane Lowell
Mendon Police Calendars - Mendon Senior Center
Janice Muldoon Moors Lou Morelli
Butch Murch Sue Ober Larry Pearson
Howard & Peggy Phipps Jim & John Quirk
Gary & Shirley Smith Taft Public Library
Doug Taylor Wayne Wagner Leo Wiersma
Below is a verbal description of the airport
From: The Mass. Aviation Historical Society
Mendon-1928-1929-1931-1935- Mendon Airport, Commercial field; Owner/Manager.:
P.A. Millis, Mendon; Operator: Mills Air service. 3 miles South of Mendon, 3 miles SW
of Milford; 4 miles NE of Uxbridge; 10 miles N of Woonsocket, RI; Lake Nipmuc .5
miles SW of field; Commercial Operators: Herman C. Ryan, Milford; Arthur F.
Scruten, Milford; Altitude: 450’ L shaped, 108 acres; 3 landing strips: 1,500’by 600’
NE/SW; 1,700’ by 1,100’ NW/SE; 1,800’ by 1,100’ N/S; sod, slopes W to E; rock
drainage. Entire field available except un-cleared SW portion. “MENDON” imbedded
in field, arrow pointing north. Buildings and trees to N’; pole line to W and NW;
Facilities for servicing aircraft, day and night.
1945- Landing facilities: Seeded strip N/S 1,800’ by 200’; sod strip: NE/SW 1,100’ by
100’ Allway sod and seeded strip: 1,800’ by 150’. Useable acres, 96, Irregular
surface, Navigation facilities: boundary day markers, Wind cone, Obstructions: Pole
lines: N, NW, NE. Trees: and buildings: N, S, SE, NNW. Services: 3 hangars, office,
minor repairs gas-80 octane, storage, training, day service.