Only 158 acres of cleared runways

The 1929 decision of the State Airport Commission to build at Hillsgrove rather than at Gaspee Point and Spring Green was ill received by many Rhode Islanders.  Charges of fraud, "bossism", and corruption were heard against Airport Commission Chairman Harry T. Bodwell and Governor Norman S. Case.

A decoy

A number of years later, Irma M. Gross, in her thesis on Governor Francis Farms, states, " appears that the farm was being used as a decoy, for the state was, at that time, buying up land on which the present airport is located...".  The Providence Journal in 1969, tracing the events of the Twenties, insinuates that the man behind the decision was the Republican "boss", Frederick S. Peck of Barrington. 
Peck, as finance commissioner, allegedly placed a ceiling of $300,000 on the purchase of the land, and this is one of the reasons given by Senator Harry T. Bodwell for the decision.  In a 1929 article, Chairman Bodwell is reported to have "...explained that Gaspee Point, which aviators say is the best location, appeared too expensive to be obtained under the $300,000 bond issue voted by the people...."

The Brown position

The media questioned the truth of this statement.  In an interview with John Francis Brown, son of Frank Hail Brown, trustee of the property, the paper concluded that no attempt had ever been made to obtain Spring Green.  John Francis Brown, who was an aviator, having had experience as a squadron commander in World War I, is quoted as saying, "We never knew how much land they planned to take.  I can't say how much opposition we would have raised to their plans because we never knew what their intentions (the Airport Commissioners) were".  Brown very clearly stated, "It was never our idea to hold up the State.  My own interest in very great.  Our desire to keep the Governor Francis homestead in the family is sentimental, of course, and to us the land appears of great value." 

The better site after all

Time has shown that the decision to locate at Hillsgrove, in the long run, was wise.  The location at Hillsgrove proved capable of overcoming the shortcomings seen in the Twenties.  The great emphasis then had been on seaplanes and the fear that Hillsgrove would be difficult to spot from the air.  As seaplanes gave way to land-based aircraft, and sophisticated electronic devises made the necessity for visually prominent landmarks obsolete, the airport proved to be an excellent location.  As it is further from the bay than Gaspee, it has the advantage of not being as susceptible to fog.

Arthur Jones remembers

In 1961, Arthur R. Jones, then the R. I. chief of airports operations, in a Providence Journal interview recalled the early days of aviation at Hillsgrove.  He said, "Hillsgrove was not anything more than a few houses, open fields, brush and farmland."  He recalled that, "When the airfield opened in 1930, I went to work for Wings, Inc., which had one Waco bi plane and a cement block hangar that had only the four walls and no roof.  The only other building was a tin hangar used by E. W. Wiggins Airways." 

The early days

In 1930, according to Jones, "We had only 158 acres of cleared area and turf runways in those early days...."  Jones remembered an "old Avro biplane in a garage at Post and Strawberryfield Roads.  It had a rotary motor; that is, the propeller was attached to the cylinders and they revolved around a stationary crankshaft.... This plane used a landing strip near the old race track."  He added that, "They used castor oil for lubrication on the planes and you certainly could smell them even before the engine was started."

Owners of small planes such as this one were Hoping that Warwick would improve its facilities for both safety and convenience.
    From the Kirby Fritz Collection.

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