Government Recognized & Approved Airfields in Rockland County
Rockland Airport/French Farms, New City, NY 1928 - 1949
Location: On Brewery Road, on the land in between Parrot Road and Laurel Road. This land is now comprised of the residential developments on Lafayette and Seymour Drive.
The first official “Airport” to open in Rockland County came in the year 1927. The airports roots started as "The Rockland County Flying Club" before the members even had an airport. They would meet in Nyack regularly. One of the original members were Dr. Pierrre Bernard, a Sportsman who was known for bringing Yoga to area. His dedication to the art is still known throughout Nyack today. Another original member was Jerry Carnegie, a WW1 pilot, and President of the club. Other members included Al Morris, also a WW1 pilot (flew a Caudron twin engine), Harry Bialy (Col in the Air Force during WW2), Rocco Gallo (Businessman and Pilot), William Whitfall (WW1 pilot), Jack Rogers (Engineer) and Harold Sherwood (Lawyer and Pilot). In early 1928, Dr Bernard scouted out a tract of land owned by Frank Shomberg, located on Brewery Road between Laurel and Parrott Roads. The exact location was across from the French Farms Hotel. The Hotel dated back to the late 1800's and was located across the street from the Airfield on the opposite side of Brewery Road. Today, the "French Farms" compost sits on the site of the old Hotel. The original airport had a strip that was 200 feet wide and 1400 feet long with a 30 degree rise on the west end. The runway ran east/west (Currently Seymour Drive/Lafayette Drive). The field officially opened to the public on Memorial Day, 1928 to much fanfare.
Earliest depiction of Rockland County Airport on US Air Navigation Maps No. 19 - 1928
There was a small airshow with demonstrations. Sadly, the day ended with a fatality when a parachute jumpers chute didn't open in time. Nonetheless, the field was open and Rockland County officially had its first airport. By the fall of 1928, the field location was determined to be a prime location for the airmail pilots flying the mail from Albany to Teterboro. The Government leased the airfield through its "Lighthouse Division" for a period of 3 years. During this time, the government installed a tower, extra runways, underground cable and lights. It then became known as "Emergency Field No 2." The Government allowed the Aerial Club to continue to operate and keep their planes at the field. By 1931, the Government was no longer using the field due to advancements in technology. The field was never formally closed but activity slowed down in the early 30s due to the depression amongst other things. In 1936, an Aerial Photography business was started by Al Morris and Everett Gates. They used a J-2, 40 hp Cub and a Leica GI camera borrowed by HT Sherwood. Once the war broke out in 41, the field was closed by the War Department (like all airports within 50 miles of the coast). All aircraft at the field were disassembled or moved into barns and garages around the county.
Jerry Carnegie is a name that comes up again and again in research of the old Rockland Airport.
Jerry kept a plane at Rockland Airport in the early days. A new Standard 90 hp, 3 passenger biplane:
Not a lot is known about Jerry’s life in the early years, other than he was a WWI aviator in some capacity. He may have settled down in Rockland after the war, or he may have been a native. He opened a restaurant around 1924 called Jerry’s Tavern located at the corner of Congers road and Rt 304. It was a popular eating and drinking establishment that appears to have burned down in the 60s. Jerry was an active member and founder of the New City Rotary as well as a volunteer of the New City Fire Department. He had another business in the 30s that distilled his famous Brandy which he called AppleJack.
A drawing of the French Farm Hotel
In 1941, at the outbreak of World War II the government ceased all civilian operations at all airports in close proximity to shorelines and major cities, and all airfields became automatic candidates for military operations. During the war, the airfield was used to train Civil Air Patrol and Army Air Force pilots on basic flight techniques. It was during that time that the owners of the land changed hands, and Rockland Airport became owned by a man named Joe Calabrese in 1942. Mr. Calabrese bought the land and the airport, which remained inactive to civilians until the end of the war. The Calabrese home was (and still is) located on Brewery Road between what is now Seymour Drive and Parrot Rd. Joe Calabrese married and had 3 children, who were born in the 1950s. One of the children, Ross, provided some of the artifacts of the airport.
In 1945, conversations about re-opening the airfield for civilian use began with a new Airport Manager, Albert Morris. Al Morris succeeded in his mission and continued to operate the field for civilians and returning GIs. He was instrumental in making the airport a popular place to learn to fly. Other people that worked at the airfield included Flight Instructor William Beard, who eventually ended up owning the Spring Valley Airport; Flight Instructor Charles Gregor, who passed away in 1949 in an accident in the Hudson River in a Republic Seabee. On October 5th, 1947, The Rockland Airport put together an Airshow for its community. The newspaper advertisements got the towns excited about the event, and it is said that several thousand people flocked to the small airport in New City to see stunt flying, landing contests, and aircraft manufacturers’ exhibits. The event was sponsored by the American Legion (William E Debevoise Jr, Post 1682). Admission was .50 cents for adults, with children admitted for free. The airshow was a success and the Rockland Airport had made its mark in the community.
Although Ross was born after the airport was closed, he remembers playing in the field where the runways were located.
Above is the flyer that appeared throughout the county and in many newspapers
In 1948, the airfield was looking for some help in aircraft maintenance, and Al Morris hired a young 21 yr. old student pilot named Richard MacVicar. Richard, who would become known as “Mac”, was very involved in the airport and eventually became the airport manager until the airport’s closing in 1949. After the GI Bill ended, the popularity of General Aviation slowed down and the airport got quieter. In 1949, there was much less activity on the airfield, and with 3 other airports active in the county, the future of The Rockland Airport was uncertain. Mr. Calabrese had been in conversations with developers about potentially building bungalows on the grounds, so he decided to close the airport at the end of the summer in 1949. The bungalows were never built. Upon closing, Mac and Al Morris packed up everything, including the hangers, and trucked and flew everything over to the Miller Airport in West Nyack; so ending the history of the first airport in Rockland County. Author’s note – my interest in this airport is due mostly to the proximity of my home and upbringing near St Francis Church. As a pilot, it was wonderful to learn that the roots of Rockland aviation were so close to where my dreams of being a pilot were developed.
Pictures of the Airfield
CHRISTIE AIRPORT, NEW CITY, N.Y. 1929 - 1969
Location: On Old Rte. 304 (now Haverstraw Rd), In between Christie Drive and Westgate Blvd.
Christie Airport was officially opened in 1929 by William Christie Sr. and his 3 sons: Jim, John, and Bill. It was officially designated as Rockland’s first “Commercial” airport. Whereas Rockland Airport was known as an Auxiliary Field, Christie’s was considered a real and active airport because of the number of scheduled flights in and out. The airport was home to a very rare Ryan Aircraft that was in an ongoing state of restoration. After extensive research, we discovered that the Ryan found its way to California and is currently on display at the San Diego Aviation Museum. During World War 2, there was Vocational school in Nyack where they were teaching women to rivet war planes. At the end of the war, they converted it to an aircraft engine course, which subsequently became a flight program at Christie Airport. MacVicar was enrolled in that program and eventually soloed at Christie’s. On May 19th, 1938, during the National Celebration of Airmail Week, Rockland County had its first Airmail flight take place at Christie’s. Mail was loaded up in Model A Ford at the Spring Valley post office, then driven to Christie airport where it was flown by Rizz Blauvelt to Newark Airport. Much is known about this airport due to the book written by the airport’s owner. The book, “Christies Airport, Early Aviation in Rockland County”, is available at many Hudson valley libraries, including the New City library. Christie’s is known to be the location for many celebrity pilots who trained there during its life; among the notable names are writer Ernie Gann and actor Burgess Meredith, who at one time owned a Stinson Gull Wing together. Christie’s flourished during the Great Depression, despite the economic troubles of the time. Most of its revenue came in the form of sales from the gasoline station that resided on the Christie property. The gas station was still standing until just recently, although it had not been used since the 1980s.
Christie senior (father) passed away in the 1950s, and the airfield was operated and maintained by John and Jim until its end in 1969 when they finally sold out the land to developers. John continued to instruct pilots from the Spring Valley Airport until well into the 1970s. Sadly, John
Christie passed away in 1978 on a training flight shortly after departing the Spring Valley Airport. He asked the student pilot to return to the field because of chest pains and died shortly after in the hospital due to heart failure. The Christie family still resides in New City. Many people who learned to fly in Rockland County in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, learned at Christie’s.
Pictures of the Airfield
Miller Airport, West Nyack, NY 1940 -July 4th, 1952
Location: Currently the Palisades Center Mall.
Northwest corner at the intersection of Rt. 59 and Rt. 303
Miller Airport was opened in 1940 on the same land that the Miller family operated the well known Miller Dairy Farm, which dates back to the turn of the 20th century. A larger portion of the land was owned and used by the Scheno Trucking Company of Nyack as a landfill. Despite objection from their neighbors, the Millers purchased the rest of this land, got the needed zoning permits, and the Miller Airport was born. Gary Miller Jr. was responsible for opening the airfield on his father’s farm. His father, Gary Miller Sr., learned to fly later on. The land was, and still is; prone to flooding and as a result the airport was often flooded. Gary Sr. had two boys, Gary Jr. and Howard, twins, who helped run the airport until it closed. Gary Jr. was a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) at Rockland Airport and then became a CFI at Millers. He eventually became an FAA Designee. Tragically, both Gary and Howard both died in airplane accidents. Howard disappeared off the Long Island sound in a Cherokee sometime in the 1960s, and Gary died in a crash at the Spring Valley Airport on take-off in 1984. During its 12 years, the Miller Airport saw a good amount of action after the war due to the GI bill. However, in 1952 after much pressure from the town, it closed. Rich MacVicar remembers one woman who lived on Greenbush Rd would complain that oil would drip on to her wash from planes flying overhead.
A combination of the town pressure, and the beginning of the construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge and the NYS Thruway, led to the closure of the airport. On July 4th, 1952, Al Morris and Rich MacVicar packed up once again, and flew the last plane out and headed to their new airport – CAPROC (Civil Air Patrol Rockland County) in Orangeburg, N.Y. Mac flew the last airplane, a Taylorcraft, off the property and the field was closed forever. A short video clip of some take offs and landings is available.
Pictures of the Airfield
Spring Valley Airport/County Airport/Ramapo Valley Airport
Spring Valley, NY 1946-1985
Location: On Smith Road. Lowes currently sits on the location of the airport.
It is very likely that when anyone thinks of airports in Rockland County, they will recall the most active one located in Spring Valley. It existed for 40 years and had gone through 3 ownership changes in that time. The roots of this airfield go back to 1945 when all the GI’s were returning from the war. The county was flourishing in aviation. The GI bill allowed many men to learn to fly at little or no cost.
Although the airport is depicted on a chart in 1945, it formally opened in 1946. William (Bill) Bohlke opened the airport with partners Ted Klink and Peter Erickson, who called it “County Airpark.” Bill was a very sharp businessman who had the vision for another successful Rockland Airport. The airport first consisted of a small 1390 foot turf runway. For a while, the airfield had stone/dust runways, so when it rained, the runways would become very firm. Other runways were constructed and were eventually paved in the 1957. Bill Bohlke Jr. recalls them having a “Blacktop Party” that was financed by actor Burgess Meredith. 1958 saw the airport’s first fatality with a crash involving a CFI and a student. Mr. Bohlke promoted aircraft financing, which was very rare at the time. He was selling a lot of Piper Tripacers back then. Bill was a very busy man and often worked from 5am until midnight running multiple jobs. He had a crop dusting business that started at 5am. He also ran a garage/auto body-repair/gas station business, and he was also the mayor of Spring Valley!
During one of Bills very needed vacations to the Caribbean, he fell in love with the island of St. Croix, and in early 1960, he decided to move his family and life down there and start a Charter business that is still run by the Bohlke family today. The Spring Valley airport had a changing of the guard to another man with the same first name and same initials. After a long arduous task of securing financing to close the deal, on July 1st, 1960, Billy Beard would take over as owner of the airport. Bill immediately changed the name of the airport to Ramapo Valley Airport because he wanted to embrace the entire district and not have the field named after any one town. Bill, now 90 years old at the time of this writing, recalls his early brush with Rockland aviation as early as 1927 when he moved to the county at age 5. He recalls the barnstorming days when planes would land and give rides for a few bucks. He would visit Kakiat Field as well as some of the other Suffern area airfields. He was hooked from an early age.
Bill got most of his real flying experience in the Military flying P-40s and P-47s at the end of WW2. He had various jobs in and out of aviation, including a short tenure operating the Ramapo Valley Airport in Mahwah. Many people confuse this airport with the Spring Valley airport due to the fact that they had the same name at different times. The one in Mahwah was owned by Fred Wehran, the owner of Teterboro airport. Fred lived near this NJ land and felt it would be well suited as a feeder airport for Teterboro. The Mahwah field was eventually bought by the Ford Motor Company and a factory was built on the land. It existed from 1946 to 1953. The Sheraton hotel is there today. After that, Bill knew he needed to own an airport and he finally got his chance in 1960. He ran the airport well for 11 years, dealing with the politics and pressures of running an airport in a growing suburban community.
During this time, Alan Yasskey and George Fiest, who were based at the airport, had been keeping their eye on buying the field when the time was right. Both of them were Real Estate developers as well as pilots. Billy Beard then sold the airport to them in 1971. Alan Yasskey was born in Nyack in 1935 and had his first brush with aviation at Miller Airport in West Nyack. He eventually learned to fly at the Spring Valley Airport during Bill Beard’s tenure in the late 1960s. TAG Aviation, short for Tom O’Looney, Alan Yassky, and George Fiest, was the primary FBO.
At its peak, Spring Valley Airport, was the home of over 150 airplanes, 6 hangers, 2 flights schools, 1 Helicopter operation (Decair), and one restaurant and bar (Mason Jar). It was by far the largest and most active airport in Rockland County until its closing in 1985, due to mounting pressures from neighbors, low buzzing aircraft over populated areas, a lucrative offer from developers, and some unfortunate fatalities. The last fatality was in the early 80s when Gary Miller Jr. (then a CFI at the field) experienced an engine failure on take-off. His student survived the accident. When the last aircraft was flown out of Spring Valley airport in 1985, this marked the sad and unfortunate end of all civil aviation in Rockland County.
Pictures of the Airfield
Nyack Seaplane Base 1946-1951
Location: Base of Main Street, Nyack, NY
Condominiums are there now
The dock/building shared locations with a passenger ferry that ran from Nyack to Tarrytown. The base was owned and operated by Foresee Aviation. The owners were Bruce Cobb and another man named Jack Dentz (FAA Examiner). They were ex P-47 pilots during WW2. They operated J3 cubs on floats and ran an active flight school during its tenure. Mac worked there on occasion in 1948 performing occasional aircraft maintenance. On November 25th of 1950, a big wind storm came through and damaged the base, and it fell in to the water. Shortly after that, an out of control car coming down Main Street crashed into the Seaplane base. Toward the end of its life, it was run by a man name Louis Forshay. Louis was a self taught pilot who soloed himself in 1909 on floats in the East River. In 1951, with the GI Bill running out and less people interested in flying, the base closed for good.