Column: Creating an airport

Column: Creating an airport

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Marlene Gantt

Marlene Gantt

In the 1920s pastures all over the country that were level enough to land an airplane were dubbed airports. There was a privately-owned grassy area known as Franing Field located in the area of the current Quad-City International Airport. It was called the Moline Airport.

Davenport, Iowa, however, owned its own airport. So, the race was on to see which city would become the hub for air travel in the Quad-Cities.

Regular trips were inaugurated in 1927 between Moline and Chicago. A six-passenger Travel-Air Cabin monoplane with a Wright Whirlwind engine was used. Charles A. Lindbergh came to Moline on Aug. 9, 1927, in his famous plane "The Spirit of St. Louis."

In 1929, Phoebe Omlie set an altitude record above the airport in a Velie Monocoupe, the only plane ever manufactured in Moline.

Still, the field at Moline was not ready for the larger airline planes that were to come.

There was a lake there where residents hunted ducks. It had also been used to land planes with pontoons. Drainage was good, but the north section of the airport was nine feet higher than the south portion.

"Several years ago, the people of our community voted a bond issue for the airport," the Daily Dispatch reported on Aug. 22, 1933. However, there was a mistake in the levy part of the ordinance (it was invalidated by a misplaced decimal) and so the vote was thrown out.

When the Depression came in 1929 it was not deemed feasible to continue the efforts to establish a city-owned airport near Moline. Privately leased Franing Field was nearly wiped out in the Great Depression. The city-owned Davenport airfield could procure government grants, an advantage over the airport south of Moline.

The Moline City Council authorized the city attorney to prepare an ordinance calling for a $60,000 bond election to provide funds for the purchase of ground where the Moline airport was situated. The bond issue would impose only a small tax. In five years, if the tax could be levied under state law it would produce enough money to purchase the land, according to the Dispatch on Aug. 19, 1933.

Unfortunately, lawyers were unable to find any authority in the state law to acquire land outside of city boundaries for airport purposes.

"The Moline Association of Commerce led a successful effort for an airport law," the Dispatch reported. "The association also found money for the purchase of the land until the new tax accumulated enough to pay off the loan."

"Last year 71 United Airlines planes were rerouted to Iowa City because the ground was too soft to permit the planes to land safely”, the Dispatch said on Aug. 1, 1933.

Runways were needed during the spring months when the frost was coming out of the ground. If runways were built, United would sign a long-time lease to use the Moline field as its permanent airport, according to the Dispatch on Aug. 22, 1933. Runways were to be 2,000 feet long and 50 feet wide.

Deere & Co. donated $2,500 for the immediate construction of necessary runways at the airport, according to a letter sent to Moline’s mayor and read at the city council meeting.

"'If we can go to United Air Lines and tell the officials that we have installed adequate runways and show them in black and white that we are ready for an airport election and then turn the same information over to the post office (for air mail) Davenport won’t have a leg to stand on’," said Harry Good, president of the Moline Association of Commerce, as reported in the Dispatch on Aug. 19, 1933.

The land being leased by the airport was 78 acres of Franing property and 30 acres of Babcock property. Owners of the Franing property were asking $500 per acre. The Babcock property owners were asking $400 per acre. The city went to trial for condemnation of the land. The trial lasted 13 and a half weeks, from Jan. 2, to March 28, 1935. The jury returned a $63,147 decision for the defendants for approximately 209 acres. The city of Moline took over the airport in 1935.

Marlene Gantt, of Port Byron, is a retired Rock Island teacher.

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