Text by Bruce Thurlow
Images from Scarborough Historical Society,
Rodney Laughton and Joseph W. Sno
Aviation: When Flight Was Still a Novelty
Scarborough airport, actually the Portland Airport, was dedicated on 28 and 29 September 1928. An air show complete with parachute jumpers was held to commemorate the occasion and many flying greats were guests. A booklet, Portland Air Meet, with pictures of the different types of planes present was available that weekend at the cost of 10 cents. Land for the airport was purchased from Lida Libby and George Eastman. The tract was slightly north of the Portland, Saco & Portsmouth Railroad tracks and the western edge bordered the marsh. It is now the site of Scarborough Industrial Park.
In 1929 Curtis Wright Corporation built a nearby log cabin intended as a barracks for a summer flight school. This school, which opened on 8 April 1930, was the first in the nation to offer a campus-like flying school. The first class attended from 20 June until 14 September 1930 and had approximately 120 college men from all parts of the country.(1) At the time it was said that Portland would be ready to take its place among the great commercial airports of the world. Locally owned and developed entirely of local capital, the Portland Airport at Scarborough was deemed adequate for any commercial purpose.
Famous aviators and commercial lines came to the Scarborough Airport. Charles Lindbergh attempted to fly into the airport in July 1927 while it was under construction, but dense fog prevented him from landing. After an unsuccessful attempt the following day, he landed instead on the beach at Old Orchard Beach. Lindbergh did visit Scarborough Airport that day, but via a motorcade on his way to Portland. A year later, he made his historic solo Atlantic crossing. In 1934, Amelia Earhart paid a visit to this airport as part of a promotional plan; she had been highly in favor of commercial air service. The Boston & Maine Airways had just inaugurated its Maine service.(2)
Within ten years of opening, the Scarborough (Portland) Airport was inadequate for the increasingly larger, more powerful aircraft. Since there was insufficient space for expansion in Scarborough, airport operations were relocated to Stroudwater, location of today’s Portland International Jetport. The Scarborough complex was used for private enterprises, such as air shows and flying schools. Fire destroyed the hangar in the late 1940s and no trace of the airport remains today.
After the blackout restrictions of World War II were lifted, the Port-of-Maine Airport opened at a site off Pleasant Hill Road. Flying schools and service operations continued into the 1960s.(3)
Joseph Snow, a Scarborough resident, was very active in early aviation. He was a master mechanic who built his own airplane, and he also worked for a Mr. Jones who owned an airplane hanger in Old Orchard Beach. I remember my mother telling me about the early days of aviation when it was quite common for planes to take off and land on the beaches. The seven-mile stretch of beach from the easterly tip of Pine Point through Old Orchard Beach to Hill’s Beach in Biddeford was often used. I’ve had frequent conversations with Joseph about his early experiences in aviation.(4)
- Scarborough Historical Society Collection: Aviation
- See note 1 above.