Ken McClure’s memoir, Reflections of A Bexley Boy1, hints at an important rite of passage for a young child – getting your first bike along with the freedom to use it.
Most of us can remember the thrill of leaving home on a bike, wind in your face, free to explore, to travel and to visit places that seemed far away from your own neighborhood. One of McClure’s “away” biking destinations was the Norton Airfield, out East Broad Street at Hamilton Road.
Named for Columbus native and OSU athlete Fred William Norton, who was a fighter pilot lost in WWI, the 100 acre site was dedicated in 1923. With grass runways, the Norton Airfield became the first airport in Central Ohio. Many famous aviators flew in and out of Norton Field, including Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, Orville Wright, Billy Mitchel, and Curtis LeMay.
Images courtesy of https://members.tripod.com/airfields_freeman/OH/Airfields_OH_C.htm#norton
Charles Lindbergh was hired to analyze the feasibility of Norton Field becoming a regional airport, but he deemed it too small, preferring a larger tract of land further north on East Fifth Avenue that assured railroad access to passengers. (Airplanes in that era could not fly over mountains, so rail travel filled the gap for transcontinental travel.) Through the leadership of Don Casto, Sr. and Edgar Wolfe a successful 1928 bond issue led to the construction of the Port Columbus Airport.
Norton Field continued in use for general aviation until 1950. Two notable events at Norton Field enticed McClure to ride his bike to the airfield, visits by the Graf Zeppelin and Amelia Earhart and her Pitcairn Autogiro, half helicopter, half airplane.
The Graf Zeppelin was a sight to behold, longer than two football fields in length, and capable of holding 24 passengers and a crew of 36. Across its 9 year life (1928-1937), the aircraft provided the first transatlantic passenger service, and completed 590 flights, traveling over a million miles. Don Casto, Sr. was a passenger on that first transatlantic flight.
Amelia Earhart was an aviation “rockstar” who was hired by the Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT) Company to promote the air industry. Her unique flying machine with its overhead blade took off vertically and then flew like a regular airplane.
And to think that these truly amazing sights were just a bike ride away from home. Today, the Norton Field site is a residential subdivision with Rickenbacker Avenue as its central street.
Written by Lawrence Helman, Bexley Historical Society Trustee
Edited by Martina Campoamor, Bexley Historical Society Trustee
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1 McClure, Ken. Reflections of a Bexley Boy, 1996. North Stream Publishing. P 32.