(originally published 10/3/19)
It all started with this little notation on a map – a label for something that was no longer there and that had nothing to do with my current interest in the map. I was researching my book on the Country Club District in Kansas City, when I found this map, which detailed the riding paths and hiking trails that once wove through the Mission Hills area along Indian Creek. The map depicted the trails, and labeled a few other landmarks of possible interest – Picnic Oven, Swimming Hole, Spring, Flying Field…
Wait. Flying field? As in “airport” flying field? My mind was semi-blown. Nichols Company promotions were known for depicting fantasy plans as often as real ones, so I’m a bit skeptical when I see things like this. Still, the idea of an airport in the middle of the Mission and Indian Hills neighborhoods was intriguing. But I could find nothing for months, until one day I found a small article in the Country Club District Bulletin, dated April 1922. That article proved to be my my only local, contemporaneous report on the flying field. That article reads:
“Through the efforts of the Flying Club, and the cooperation of the J.C. Nichols Investment Company, Kansas City now has a Flying Field, located at 67th and Belinder. This Field was donated by Mr. Nichols to the American Legion during the convention last Fall, and has recently been leased by the Flying Club. This has been made possible through use of the funds derived from the American Legion Flying Meet, which was one of the most successful events of the kind ever held in the United States. Representatives of the Government Air Service and aircraft manufacturers have been unanimous in pronouncing it’s one of the best Flying Fields in the entire country.
Negotiations are under way for the establishing of an Air Line between Kansas City and Wichita, to be in operation about the first of June. Two five-passenger planes will be in service, making one trip daily each way. Members of the Flying Club are confident this will be but the first of many such lines out of Kansas City. And it is not unreasonable to predict that within a few years Air Line service will be on a regular schedule to St. Louis, Chicago, Omaha, Minneapolis, and many other cities.”
With this much to go on, I had enough keywords to yield a couple of additional pieces online, from 1922 issues of Aerial Age Weekly. And with all that, I had enough to generate the three paragraphs I needed for the book. Here’s that excerpt:
In the 1920s, automobiles might have been ruling the roads, but airplanes ruled the skies. Nichols thought the Country Club District should have its own “flying field.” In the early days of aviation, a flying field was all that was needed—an open, flat space that might or might not have a graded or paved surface for landings and takeoffs or any other infrastructure. The district’s flying field would not be the area’s first. There was plenty of interest in flight in Kansas City, not the least of which came from local business interests. Nichols no doubt shared the same instinct that aviation offered huge potential for the country’s economic future. In 1918, the United States government began airmail service. Though still in its infancy, this would have been enough to interest J.C. Nichols in how air service might benefit the Country Club District.
In February 1922, the Flying Club of Kansas City, a group of local enthusiasts, met downtown in the Hotel Baltimore. Their agenda for the day included a discussion regarding whether to lease property for a flying field. The April 1922 issue of Aerial Age Weekly made an extensive report of that meeting, as well as the events that had transpired in the three months since. At the meeting, J.C. Nichols was present to suggest a site for the field. He proposed his property at Sixty-seventh Street and Belinder Road, which at that time was still well beyond the boundaries of his current subdivision projects. The article reported that the local club signed the lease and christened the field the American Legion Flying Field. The lease was signed just three days after the meeting. The new field, the article went on, was already generating impact. Early aviation manufacturer Huff-Daland would be opening a plant in Kansas City. Another well-known aviation company of the time, H.H. Steely, had opened a school to train pilots. Laird Aviation of Wichita wanted to connect that city with Kansas City through regular passenger service. The Aerial Age Weekly article also mentioned temporary hangars already on site, additional permanent hangars still to be built and a significant amount of infrastructure to be put into the site.
This rapid expansion may have been too much too soon for J.C. Nichols’s comfort. If he was beginning to recognize that what some saw as amenities, others saw as nuisances, he might have anticipated that if he allowed the flying field to continue to grow, he would permanently and adversely affect the value of some of his Country Club District property, forever limiting the level of acceptable development. It is also known that this was the period in which civic leaders began taking a larger and longer-term approach to establishing Kansas City as an aviation center. A scant four months after that first article on the Flying Club of Kansas City and its American Legion Flying Field, Aerial Age Weekly reported in its August edition that the club would be moving to a new location. That site would be farther out, in Raytown near Blue Ridge Boulevard. The club planned to let its lease expire in November 1922. So, for a brief period of no more than six months, the Country Club District had its own flying field, which was the center of Kansas City’s aviation industry.
The Country Club District Bulletin issue I used also had a photo, far too grainy and frankly not interesting enough to be used in the book. But I’ve included it here (above) for the first time in print.
As you can see, that story started with a small notation on a map, something so intriguing I was compelled to piece the story together as best I could. But once the story had run its course in the larger story of the Country Club District, I had to stop. But I’d always wondered about the next chapter.
Then, following a recent presentation to the Raytown Historical Society (wonderful organization and people!), I was perusing their shelves of scrapbooks when I came across one marked “Richards Field and Ong Airport.” I told my guide about the “flying field,” and she pointed to two huge aerial shots of the field, so big they covered the wall in front of me. Nothing grabs me like a great image, and so I came back to the society’s museum a few weeks letter to run down the story.
So, next time, I’ll share what I learned about the really important and unexpected role that Raytown has played in Kansas City’s early aviation history.
Raytown – who knew, right?
Photos: Banner from the Aerial Age Weekly issue describing the development history of the Flying Club of Kansas City’s efforts to open a full-service air field in Kansas City. All other images courtesy Kansas City Public Library, Missouri Valley Special Collections.