Early Days of Princeton Airport


Bohmer’s Field – Princeton Airport 1911-2011



Established Circa 1911

History of Princeton Airport

 The following article appeared in the May 1976 edition of The Princeton Recollector a monthly journal of local history, published by the Princeton History Project.


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Newhouse Designed Early Airplanes

Less than a decade after the Wright brothers made real man’s age old desire to fly, the age of aviation reached our region with the coming of Richard A. Newhouse, newly arrived from Germany, who designed and built planes in Rocky Hill as early as 1911. Later, as several of his offspring took to the air, he established the Newhouse Flying Service at Bolmer’s Field, which has become Princeton Airport. Two of his five sons, Aribert of Princeton (whose statements appear in italics), and Werner A. Newhouse, of Vero Beach, Florida, here remember their father and his ventures in the world of aviation.

“Aviation came to Rocky Hill in the early 1900’s with the design and building of aircraft by my father, Richard A. Newhouse (original spelling Neuhaus).”

“He was a smart man. He began as a draftsman, but he also took up engineering while he was still in Germany. Both my parents were born in Germany -.Dresden. I was, too. They came here in 1908. We came up to Vermont, first -I don’t know what brought them there. I was too small – I wasn’t even walking yet.

“I went back to Germany in ’29 and met all the relatives. I was 21. My mother promised her mother when she left Germany that she would send me over when I was 21, so I went. Both grandmothers were still alive. There were brothers and sisters, too, but only one is still living today. She moved from East to West Germany.

“I was born in 1907 and then after we had come over here Werner was born, in February 1909.”

“I have a large picture showing Mother, Dad, Aribert (the eldest) on Dad’s lap, and me on Mother’s lap.”

“Father looks like the typical German in that picture – short mustache; and Mother looks exactly like our sister Ruth as she gets older.”

“The dirigible in the background was one of Dad’s earliest designs. This dirigible, along with other designs by Dad, was written up in the Boston newspapers around 1910. One article had a picture of Aribert (Ari, as Dad called him) sitting in one of the planes. I was three years old. I remember the dirigible design. My father made the drawings for that, but it was never built.”

“One of Dad’s first acquaintances when he came to this country was a man by the name of George Schmitt. He was a very good friend of the family, because we lived right next to him up there in Vermont. He was interested in flying, and Dad was interested in aviation design, so they naturally got together. Pop designed a plane and they put it together. This was no more than five or six years after the Wright Brothers.

“But then Dad moved us from Vermont to Rocky Hill because there was a job opportunity. He worked for the Terra Cotta Company in Rocky Hill as a draftsman, and later I did, too. All clay work.”

“Nevertheless he continued his interest in aviation. I have pictures of an aircraft he worked on at about that time, designed and built by another company, which would not fly until redesigned and modified by Dad. The modifications show up as lighter sections on the wings in the pictures.”

“He probably did most of his drafting on work like that after we were all in bed. At night he would make up those drawings; that was the only time he could do it.”

Tragedy in Rutland

“As far as I can recollect he kept in touch with his friend Schmitt after he came down here – until he was killed. There are several pictures of his 1911 model, designed in Rocky Hill, built in 1912, and actually flown by Schmitt.”

“It should be mentioned in passing that Dad’s 1911 model had separate floating ailerons which were of his design. There were a major innovation as early aircraft of that day were previously banked by warping the wings.”

“He did all the work on that plane right in the backyard there on Montgomery Avenue. That’s the one that Schmitt flew. That plane went all the way to South America, and then that fellow Schmitt was killed with it right in his own home town up in Rutland, Vermont.”

“I don’t remember details of the crash, but as I understand it, Schmitt was carrying a passenger who, for some reason, became excited and grabbed the controls causing the plane to crash.”

“They were ‘hopping’ passengers at a county fair up there. And that passenger grabbed the control wire. Schmitt’s mother was looking out the house window and saw it happen. I can imagine what a sight that was.”

Seven Little Newhouses

“Dad remained quite active in aviation until the 1911 model crashed and Schmitt was killed. This and other economic reasons (Dad’s family was getting larger) caused him to give it up.”

“There were eventually seven children. When we moved to Rocky Hill we lived up there where the first plane was built, on Montgomery Avenue. And then some people by the name of Flemming were going away and they wanted their house taken care of up on the high hill there. So we went up and I guess we stayed there about two years. That was a nice house with a lot of room in it.

“I remember particularly sleigh-riding down that hill to school. We went to the brick school on Montgomery Avenue. I went for eight years – that’s all I was allowed to go. Then we moved to a house on Washington Street opposite the present Post Office. That was our residence. Today it’s a beauty parlor and they’ve really ruined it. It was a beautiful old house, all the walls were brick lined.”

All Grease Monkeys Together

“Next to the house was his garage. You should have seen it. Dad had a stone garage there. The walls were two feet thick. That had been a blacksmith shop originally. And they knocked that down to make a parking lot for the beauty parlor. We were stunned when we saw that gone.

“When Dad gave up on aviation he went into the garage business right in that stone building. He had a stove out there. I used to work out in that shop with him in those days. I had a motorcycle at that time, so I knew Joe Neil, who lived across the street, and Raymond Cortelyou – we were all grease monkeys together.

“I’ll never forget one night when we had to work until three o’clock in the morning to get a hearse ready for a funeral the next day. We had to tear the whole motor down and rebuild it. One rod and one piston blew. Dad was very mechanical. He could fix cars, motorcycles – anything mechanical. I guess that’s why it made all the aviation work easy for him.”

Werner Takes Wings

“Dad remained inactive in aviation until my entry into the flying circle in 1927. My interest, of course, developed long before that, probably inherited from Dad. My first venture was building a model of the motored Fokker.

“Also, prior to entry into flying, I took a correspondence course in aeronautical engineering from Western Airplane Corporation of Chicago. I believe Dad was not so enthusiastic about my learning to fly. I had to get Mother to work on Dad for his permission, which he finally gave.”

“Mother never stopped them. She didn’t interfere. As each son came along and wanted to fly, she let him go”

“By the time I had gained my parents’ go-ahead, I had saved enough money to purchase a Curtiss ‘Jenny’ (JN4D-2). I have several pictures of that plane taken on the early airfield (Bolmer’s Field) which is the same area where the present Princeton Airport is now in existence.”

“I remember when Werner got that plane and learned to fly it. I tried to fly that Jenny, but I could never make out with it.”

“Late in 1927 Dad designed a three place high wing monoplane. Construction was started in 1928 and completed in 1929. 1 have several pictures of it: one showing the wing construction in Dad’s shop, another of the uncovered fuselage with motor and propeller installed, and several of the completed airplane, designated the Ns-1 and bearing the registration #635.”

“Dad built that plane right in his shop. He had to buy the tubing and so forth, when he built that plane – the single-wing job. But he did the work. And Werner flew that one.”

Princeton Airport Arrives

“In early 1929 Dad and I started the Newhouse Flying Service at what was named by us and known then, and presently, as Princeton Airport. We published a brochure, which might supply some useful information on the flying classes and other operations run there at that time.”

“Of course Dad practically lived up at that airport, day and night. He must have been back and forth from the shop to the airport fifty times a day. All he had was one hangar there. It wasn’t as big as a house, as I recall, but we built that, too.”

“Nevertheless, at one time we had as many as nineteen aircraft there – quite a sizable operation for the depression years. It was out of Princeton Airport that the first Air Mail flight took off from Princeton on November 16, 1937. We even had an advertising poster done by Emit Moell, a close friend of ours.”

“And then, every now and then on weekends, they’d have an air show in there and do stunts. They had what they’d call the ‘barrel-roll’ and they’d go over and spin them down. ‘Wing-over.’ ‘Loops.'”

“Daredevil” Perri

“I have a picture of our parachute exhibitionist, John Perri (commonly known as Daredevil Perri) who was a Sunday feature.”

“They’d go up and have someone jump out. I remember seeing them come down in their parachutes. They’d put a spot out on the field where the man should land, and he’d do it, too.

“Eventually all the boys went into aviation – except me. I’m the only one that escaped. My wife wouldn’t let me. When I met her in ’29 she said, ‘You either keep both feet on the ground, or forget it.'”

“When the Second World War came along we all went into the service. Among the pictures is one of my Squadron VN4RD1 in a training session at Floyd Bennett Field, New York. I had previously been commissioned an Ensign as an AV-T Officer in September 1932.”

“It was during the War that Dad gave up the airport. The boys were away in the service and there was nobody there to carry on.

“Dad died in ’43. He was sick quite a while before he died, nine months. But as everyone said, ‘If he could have had the money to go along with the brains he had, that airport could have been really something.'”

“An Inspiration to Us All”

“I believe if it had been economically feasible for Dad to continue in the early days of aviation, his name would have gone down in history. There is much more that might be added about his interest in aviation, like he learned to fly at age 51, but we would have to go on too long. He was an intelligent man and an inspiration to all of us Newhouse aviators.

“Dad and Mother brought into this world five sons and two daughters. Four sons became aviators, all of whom were airline pilots. Today Ted, of North Central Airlines, is retired with a medical disability and living in Cumberland, Wisconsin, Doug is with Eastern Airlines flying out of Atlanta and living in Gainesville, Georgia; Ray is with American Airlines flying out of Los Angeles and living on a ranch south of Tucson, Arizona and I, the eldest aviator, retired in 1969 from the F.A.A. with whom I went after World War II, and now live in Vero Beach, Florida.”

“In closing, I might describe the headstone at the Rocky Hill Cemetery which is the final resting place for Elisabeth and Richard A. Newhouse. Above the Newhouse name, etched into the headstone, is the outline of Dad’s 1911 model airplane.”

Prior to 1920 the Newhouse family lived in Rocky Hill where the elder Newhouse experimented with airplanes. In need of a place to launch, Mr. Newhouse brought his craft to the field where Princeton Airport currently exists.  (See Newhouse Page)

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History of Princeton Airport

Prior to 1920 the Newhouse family lived in Rocky Hill where the elder Newhouse experimented with airplanes. In need of a place to launch, Mr. Newhouse brought his craft to the field where Princeton Airport currently exists.

 

Mineola, New York — November 19, 1916

One by one, the ten JN-4 “Jennies” dropped out of cloud-laden skies at the end of a trail-blazing cross-country flight. The date was November 19, 1916 and these pioneer aviators, members of New York’s 1st Aero Company, had just completed an historic roundtrip from Mineola, N.Y., to Princeton, New Jersey. The flight, hailed by the press as “the largest number ever seen on one flight in this country,” was the first mass cross-country flight in U.S. military aviation. The first leg of the historic flight was launched on Saturday, November 18, with a rendezvous of twelve airplanes over Governor’s Island, New York. The flight leader, an airman destined to be one of the great names in World War I aviation-Captain (later Colonel) Raynal Cawthorne Bolling, formed the aero unit in 1915. Navigating by familiar landmarks on the roads and fields, the adventuresome National Guard pilots (two aircraft piloted by civilian trainees flew only the first leg), made the return trip on Sunday, November 19, a cold and overcast day. Truly a pioneer in militia aviation, the 1st Aero Company was the first ever to be called into Federal service, in June 1916. A year later most of its members were flying combat missions in France. But the first formation cross-country flight, a pioneer accomplishment soon to be eclipsed by the great strides in aviation, nevertheless set the stage for the accomplishments of the Air National Guard in the years to come.

PRINCETON AIRPORT – 1951

At the time Mrs. Bohmer owned the field it was 70 acres.  During World War II, the airport’s two runways accommodated B-10 bombers and D-Cs. Over the years various structures were constructed and the acreage changed, however the major change came in 1964, when Webster (Danny) Todd Jr., the brother of Governor Christine Todd Whitman, purchased the airport. At that time extensive planning and negotiations took place with the Montgomery Township Committee. The site of the airport was approximately 150 aces. Todd paved Runway 28-10, built the main terminal, and constructed two sets of ten T-hangars. This was to have been built in conjunction with a commercial airpark. However, Todd went on to Washington and the airport was sold.


History of Princeton Airport

Prior to 1920 the Newhouse family lived in Rocky Hill where the elder Newhouse experimented with airplanes. In need of a place to launch,
Mr. Newhouse brought his craft to the field where Princeton Airport currently exists.

Click on the Images for More Interesting History

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Mineola, New York — November 19, 1916

One by one, the ten JN-4 “Jennies” dropped out of cloud-laden skies at the end of a trail-blazing cross-country flight. The date was November 19, 1916 and these pioneer aviators, members of New York’s 1st Aero Company, had just completed an historic roundtrip from Mineola, N.Y., to Princeton, New Jersey. The flight, hailed by the press as “the largest number ever seen on one flight in this country,” was the first mass cross-country flight in U.S. military aviation. The first leg of the historic flight was launched on Saturday, November 18, with a rendezvous of twelve airplanes over Governor’s Island, New York. The flight leader, an airman destined to be one of the great names in World War I aviation-Captain (later Colonel) Raynal Cawthorne Bolling, formed the aero unit in 1915. Navigating by familiar landmarks on the roads and fields, the adventuresome National Guard pilots (two aircraft piloted by civilian trainees flew only the first leg), made the return trip on Sunday, November 19, a cold and overcast day. Truly a pioneer in militia aviation, the 1st Aero Company was the first ever to be called into Federal service, in June 1916. A year later most of its members were flying combat missions in France. But the first formation cross-country flight, a pioneer accomplishment soon to be eclipsed by the great strides in aviation, nevertheless set the stage for the accomplishments of the Air National Guard in the years to come.

PRINCETON AIRPORT – 1951

 

At the time Mrs. Bohmer owned the field it was 70 acres.  During World War II, the airport’s two runways accommodated B-10 bombers and D-Cs. Over the years various structures were constructed and the acreage changed, however the major change came in 1964, when Webster (Danny) Todd Jr., the brother of Governor Christine Todd Whitman, purchased the airport. At that time extensive planning and negotiations took place with the Montgomery Township Committee. The site of the airport was approximately 150 aces. Todd paved Runway 28-10, built the main terminal, and constructed two sets of ten T-hangars. This was to have been built in conjunction with a commercial airpark. However, Todd went on to Washington and the airport was sold.    Click here for full size photo! In 1969 the Van Dyke family succeeded Todd, and son, David Van Dyke, operated a full service facility. A successful commuter service, Princeton Airways, began serving Boston, Washington, and Kennedy Airports daily, connecting with major airlines. When the air traffic controllers went on strike, Van Dyke halted the commuter service, and put the airport up for sale in 1981. Princeton Airways ran a fleet of Islanders and this Nomad during the 70’s and early 80’s.

PRINCETON AIRPORT – 1985

On March 29, 1985, Princeton Aero Corp, whose principals are members of the Nierenberg family, Naomi, Dick, and their son, Ken, purchased the airport. The Nierenbergs had operated a full service fixed base operation at Kupper Airport for eighteen years when they were in search of a new home facing the expiration of their lease.

Immediately the Nierenbergs brought all the services to the dormant airport which had been for sale for four years. The area pilots responded enthusiastically to the return of airport services. The new management immediately started to improve the facility with an improved lighting system. In 1987 a set of sixteen T-hangars was constructed and filled upon completion.

The other services were well received. The FAA certified flight school grew rapidly; a variety of airplanes were available for rent; the maintenance shop expanded; the tie-down area increased; and Princeton Airport was back to a full service operation.

But this was the ?80s, and Central Jersey was thriving. The Route 1 Corridor saw one corporation after another base their home offices in the area, proudly touting the Princeton zip code, 08540. Land values increased rapidly and municipal services were stressed. Highways became congested, and housing starts soared. Existing housing values skyrocketed. People were in search of their piece of suburbia with peace and quiet. Some purchased existing homes and others built new homes, many near the airport.

As the airport activity increased, so did conflicts with the neighbors in the immediate proximity of the airport. No matter how the management tried to appease these homeowners and the governing officials, nothing worked. Any improvements to the airport were met by the town fathers with great opposition, even when the proposal was for safety improvements.

Between the harassment by some of the neighbors and the obstacles put forth by township officials, enormous time and money were wasted to save the viability of the airport. Eventually the township committee passed ordinances which forced the airport into litigation. These ordinances infringed upon the jurisdiction of the FAA and the New Jersey Division of Aeronautics. However, it was up to Princeton Aero to go to court, as all negotiations fell apart. Nary a week passed that banner headlines were printed in the local newspapers, inciting the residents. The ugly battle continued for several years until the airport won in Superior Court by summary judgment in 1993. Peace did not come easily as the township immediately filed an appeal.

Concurrent with the conflicts, the Princeton Airport was designated a “reliever airport”, which enabled it to apply for FAA Airport Improvement Program funding for safety improvements. This was interpreted by the residents that Princeton Airport would become a jetport. The overzealous opponents were extremely adept and sophisticated, and were able to politicize the issue involving senators and congressmen.

The day that the Township Committee passed the two ordinances against the airport, a base customer donated a check for $1000 to the airport to start the Legal Defense Fund. This person learned to fly under the current owners, purchased an airplane from them, and was in the process of building one when the township began its assault. This donation and hundreds of other donations, ranging from $5 to thousands, were put into the fund which ultimately totaled over $60,000. Pilots from all over the country heard the plight of Princeton and recognized this arbitrary action could happen to any airport. Although the amount collected was only a fraction of the monies needed for the legal battle, it was very welcome.

Undaunted by the local opposition, the first project for which the airport received approval and used federal funds, was the taxiway reconstruction. Future projects must be preceded by a comprehensive Master Plan study by professional planners. The Master Plan study looks to the needs of the aviation community for the next twenty years and the impact it may cause. Throughout the study process, the FAA requires the public to have a voice, both by having representatives on the Technical Advisory Committee and through public hearings. The hearings about Princeton Airport were extremely contentious and hope for a resolution appeared to be remote.

From 1993 to May, 1996, Airport Manager, Ken Nierenberg, and attorney, Tom Hall, began quiet negotiations to resolve the differences. All parties assured each other that the efforts would be confidential and no one would speak to the press until all sides agreed. A compromise was finally worked out, and an agreement allowed the airport to continue with its build-out plan. In return the township would drop its appeal. Both sides compromised significantly, and an agreement was signed on May, 1996.

In 1995 two more sets of four T-hangars were added, and in 1996, a large hangar was erected to house two turbo-props. 1996 also welcomed some sorely needed paving and overlay of taxiways and parking areas, funded primarily by the New Jersey Division of Aeronautics, Transportation Trust Fund.

In 1999 the management constructed a set of eight hangars which were larger and were able to accommodate many model twin engine airplanes. Upon completion these hangars were completely filled.

If you have any information regarding the history of Princeton Airport over the years, or if you have any pictures, please forward it to Princeton Airport, 41 Airpark Road, Princeton, New Jersey 08540. We are trying to compile a more comprehensive historical account.

Princeton Airport’s Future Has Begun…

After ten years of planning Princeton Airport’s major improvements were completed in 2001.  This premiere facility doubled in size, making it now 100 acres.  A new 3500′ by 75′ paved runway was completed in August , 2001, amidst some fanfare as the airport and the New Jersey Division of Aeronautics celebrated the construction of the first brand new runway in the state in over 30 years.  By the end of November the airport’s old runway was milled and paved to make a new full length taxiway.  To brighten the airport at night a new pilot controlled lighting system was installed making the airport much more visible.  Added to these features a much improved ramp was completed in December, providing transients with space to park while they conduct business or visit the Princeton area.  The official ribbon cutting ceremony took place on May 18th, 2002, when Governor Jim McGreevey attended the dedication ceremony.

More recently the demand for hangars was met with construction with several sets – additions to the early hangars and new roofs; the eight large green hangars were next; two sets of two very large hangars were built contiguous to the administration building; a set of sixteen red hangars and a set of tan hangars to the west were completed and occupied.  Cramped for space a second floor was put on the administration building in 2005 with four offices, a classroom, a flight planning room, and a lovely lounge which oversees airport operations. Through the help of the New Jersey Department of Transportation snow removal and grass cutting equipment as well as a backhoe to operate the facility more efficiently.  Completion of a self-service fuel facility for 100LL should be completed in the spring of 2008.

2011:  On the centennial of the aviation industry at Princeton Airport, the airport has AWAS; LPV  GPS approach; and awaits any of the new technology that the future will bring.