Traveling up to the Grand Traverse Lighthouse at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula near Northport I passed by the beautiful little Clinton F Woolsey memorial airport. It’s hard to miss the fascinating stone building with a black and yellow roof next to the road.
Clinton F. Woolsey was born in 1894 in Northport and grew up on his family farm, He took great interest in anything mechanical and after finishing school in Northport he studied engineering at Valparaiso University in Indiana. After college, He enlisted in the military eventually becoming a test pilot. While in the military he trained pilots and one of his students was Charles a Lindbergh ( think you know who he is) Interestingly Clinton was working on a plane he nicknamed the “Woolsey Bomber” and planing to be the first to fly non stop over the Atlantic ocean, but was called into duty for the Pan-American Goodwill Flight of 1926- 1927.
He oversaw the construction and testing of the five Loening OA-1 amphibian observation planes to be used on the tour. Tragically he was killed on the tour when his plane collided with another plane in the clouds on February 26th 1927 in Buenos Aries. After the collision co-plot John W. Benton climbed out onto the wing without a parachute to try to lower the damaged landing gear. Captain Woolsey could have probably parachuted to safety but chose to pilot the plane with Benton on the wing. Without being able to lower the landing gear the plane crashed and both men were killed. “I have never witnessed a more courageous sacrifice,” said Capt. Ira Eaker, who witnessed the crash from his plane.
In 1934, during the Great Depression, Capt. Woolsey’s 85-year-old father Byron Woolsey wanted to ensure that Clinton would always be remembered. He donated 80 acres of his land to Leelanau Township on the condition it be used as an airport in honor of his son. The township added another 120 acres. A Works Progress Administration crew converted the farm, as part of a “New Deal” public works project, into a long grassy runway and expanded Woolsey’s creamery/milk transfer station into a terminal. The Northport Woman’s Club donated a bronze plaque honoring Capt. Woolsey, which was placed on a large boulder near the terminal.
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