Woolsey Memorial Airport is a publicly owned, public use airport located 3 miles northeast of Northport in Leelanau Township on the Leelanau Peninsula. It was built in 1935 and is owned and operated by Leelanau Township.
The Airport is quite a site and unlike any other airport. The grass field is accented by a charming stone-sided air terminal and a gazebo-like observation deck.
The airport has two runways. The East-West runway is 3,663 feet long and the North-South runway is 2,500 feet long. The terminal is unmanned and there are four hangars.
History of the Airport
Woolsey Memorial Airport has a fascinating history that spans over a century. The airport is named after Clinton F. Woolsey, a pioneer aviator who died in a plane crash near Buenos Aires in 1927 during the first Pan-American Goodwill Flight. In 1934, Byron Woolsey, Clinton’s father, donated 80 acres of his land to Leelanau Township on the condition that it be used as an airport in honor of his son.
The township added another 120 acres to the airport, and a Works Progress Administration crew converted the farm into a long grassy runway.
The airport terminal was originally a farm creamery and milk transfer station on Gold Rod Farm. Byron Woolsey, Clinton’s father built the creamery in 1874 when he was a teenager.
The creamery was converted and expanded into the airport terminal.
The airport was dedicated on July 14, 1935, exactly 86 years before the historical marker honoring Clinton F. Woolsey and his family was dedicated at the airport.
Who was Clinton F. Woolsey?
Clinton F. Woolsey was born in Leelanau County, Michigan, on August 29, 1894, the son of Byron Woolsey and Sarah Hall. He was the youngest of 8 children and the only boy growing up on a dairy farm in Northport. He attended school in Northport and studied engineering at Valparaiso University in Indiana.
Woolsey’s grandfather, Chauncey Woolsey, died in 1864 at the Battle of Totopotomoy Creek in Hanover County, Virginia during the Civil War. His great-grandfather, Adolphus Woolsey, served in the War of 1812. Woolsey was a descendant of George (Joris) Woolsey, a 17th Century settler of New Amsterdam and progenitor of the Woolsey family in America.
In Malines, Belgium in 1919 Woolsey married Marietta Rosalia “Rosalie” Dujardin, a Red Cross volunteer during the War. They had two daughters. In July 1922 Woolsey and his family survived a plane crash near St. Augustine, Florida without injuries. Mrs. Woolsey traveled frequently between Europe and the US after his death, and she died in Belgium in 1963.
Woolsey designed a plane called the Woolsey Bomber, and it was his plan to do the first transatlantic flight. However, he was called to serve his country before he could attempt the flight.
Clinton’s Military Career
Woolsey enlisted in the Indiana National Guard in 1916. He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant of artillery. Woolsey trained at the officer’s training course at Fort Benjamin Harrison near Indianapolis. He served on the Mexican border returning to Gary Indiana to work in the steel mills.
Woolsey returned to the Guard and transferred to Camp Taylor in Kentucky. There he served as an instructor and decided to become a pilot. He was sent to Kelly Field in San Antonia, Texas for his pilot training.
Kelly Field was one of 32 flight training locations to train army pilots for the war. Woolsey received additional training in Dayton, Ohio and at Mitchell Field in Long Island. During the end of World War I he served briefly in Europe.
Charles A. Lindbergh received his final pilot training from Woolsey in 1925 at Brooks Field in Texas.
Pan-American Goodwill Flight Pilot
He was chosen as chief engineer of a party of five planes to take a Pan American Good Will flight to South America in 1926. This was a 20,000-mile tour over four-plus months in open planes, a monumental flight that sought to promote air postal service, U.S. commercial aviation, and take messages of friendship to the governments and people of the Americas while establishing new aerial navigation routes.
While preparing to land in Buenos Aires a gust of wind caused the Detroit and the New York wings to clip each other. During this collision, Clinton’s co-pilot was on the wing trying fix a problem with their landing gear. He was trying to lower the wheels manually for the landing.
While the 2-man crew of the New York were able to pull their parachutes and float to safety, Clinton chose not to abandon his co-pilot. He could have pulled his parachute and left his co-pilot to certain death or attempt to land without landing gear down. He decided to attempt a landing and they both died in the crash.
Clinton was only 32 at the time. Although he could have been buried in Arlington, his wife chose to have him buried in Northport.
Woolsey’s contributions to aviation development were recognized when he was posthumously decorated in May 1927 with the Distinguished Flying Cross.
About the Pan-American Goodwill Flight
The Pan-American Goodwill Flight of 1926 and 1927 was a public relations goodwill mission to promote U.S. aviation in Central and South America The Pan-American Goodwill Flight was a pioneering flight that sought to promote air postal service, U.S. commercial aviation, and take messages of friendship to the governments and people of the Americas while establishing new aerial navigation routes.
The flight was proposed by Maj. Gen. Mason Patrick, chief of the Army Air Corp, and was intended to improve relations with Latin American countries, encourage commercial aviation, and provide valuable training for Air Corps personnel. The flight was also intended to interest the Latin American nations in US aircraft and engines, emphasize the advantages of aviation for transportation and communications in regions that were without rail or road transport, and help stimulate the struggling US aircraft industry.
Ten distinguished military pilots, with good mechanical skills, were selected to fly the five Loening amphibian airplanes, each named for a city in the United States. Clinton F. Woolsey was one of ten pilots chosen to fly in the Pan-American Goodwill Flight, which included five two-seater planes.
The flight originated with five aircraft and crews taking off from Kelly Field on December 21, 1926, seeking to land in 23 Central and South American countries. The flight concluded on May 2, 1927, at Bolling Field with thousands of spectators waiting at the flight line. President Calvin Coolidge was there to award the pilots the first Distinguished Flying Crosses.
Historical Marker Dedication
In 2018, Clinton F. Woolsey’s great-niece, Lynn Contos, started a campaign to add a historical marker to the airport grounds.
In 2021, a Michigan Historical Marker was dedicated to Woolsey and his family at Woolsey Memorial Airport in Northport, Michigan. The two-sided marker honors Woolsey’s contributions to aviation development and his family’s dedication to the airport.
The marker honoring Woolsey and his family was dedicated on July 14, 2021, with a ceremony that included a Coast Guard flyover.
Woolsey Memorial Airport today
According to Airnav.com there are 5 aircraft based on the field. For the 12-month period ending December 31, 2022, the airport averaged 58 aircraft operations a month. 50% were transient and 50% were local general aviation.
After close to 150 years, this amazing landmark is in desperate need of rehabilitation and preservation so that it may stand to welcome visitors for many more years.
A SWAT! (Save Woolsey Airport Terminal) group has been formed to raise funds to accomplish the needed work.
SWAT! has joined with the Leelanau Township Community Foundation, a 501(c)(3) who will receive, manage, and disburse the funds raised.
This project is supported by Leelanau Township as the owner of the park/airport.
Donations may be made by check and mailed to LTCF at: PO Box 818 Northport MI 49670
Donations should be made out to Leelanau Township Community Foundation or LTCF with a note on the check memo line naming the SWAT! fund. Donations can also be made on-line. Visit the SWAT Facebook page for more pictures and historical information can be found there.
Woolsey Family Farm/Clinton F. Woolsey Memorial Airport Historical Markers
Two World Wars and the Depression (1915-1945) – Registered in 2020 and erected in 2021 – ID #L2336
Located at 13591 E. Woolsey Lake Road -Lat: 45.16265300 / Long: -85.57100500
Woolsey Family Farm
Around 1858, Chauncey and Caroline Woolsey moved with their children from Buffalo, New York, to Northport. Chauncey’s father, Adolphus Woolsey, a War of 1812 veteran, arrived with his wife Harriet soon after. Chauncey purchased more than 150 acres of land for a farm, including this site. He enlisted in the 26th Michigan Infantry during the Civil War, dying in battle in 1864. Thereafter, Chauncey’s teenage son Byron took over clearing the family land. By the 1890s, Byron ran a successful dairy farm. His Jersey cows provided milk and cream for summer residents at Northport Point for more than two decades. Byron was a builder who constructed his own dairy barn, a chapel and several local cottages. He and his wife, Sarah, had eight children. Clinton, their youngest, was born in 1894. He trained as an engineer and army pilot and served in World War I.
Clinton F. Woolsey Memorial Airport
In 1926, Captain Clinton F. Woolsey became an engineer for the U. S. Army Air Service. He was one of ten pilots selected to serve in the Pan-American Good Will Flight to Central and South America that occurred from December 1926 to May 1927. Clinton died when his plane crashed in February 1927. His funeral and burial took place in Northport. His father, Byron Woolsey, donated eighty acres of his dairy farm for this memorial airport, including a fieldstone structure believed to have been his creamery. Leelanau Township gave 120 more acres. The Civil Works Administration assigned workers to the airport project in winter 1933-34. The farmland became the runway, and the creamery became the terminal.