Coasting: Post-World War II to the 1960s
Links with feature additional commentary by Newburyport residents Robert Walton (circuses, Raytheon) and Charles Eaton III (Civil Air Patrol).
In the 1950s and ‘60s, the airport began to see its first signs of commercial struggle. Since the Army had used it for various purposes during World War II, the airfield had been receiving government subsidies during and after the war. When these funds were pulled in 1951, the community began to worry about the airport’s future, as flying was a popular pursuit but failed to be a money-making business. One article in the Newburyport Daily News noted these difficulties but left its readers with a call to arms: “Our Plum Island field is advantageously situated. It has been well run by Warren S. Frothingham, and is an asset to such a place as Newburyport….all Newburyporters should wish it well; keep its presence in mind, and be on the look-out to help in its further development.”
Although these were relatively quiet years in comparison to the 1930s and ‘40s, the airport did remain an asset to the community. One way it did so was through its participation in citywide celebrations. Throughout the 1960s it contributed activities to Yankee Homecoming, a summer festival begun in 1957 in Newburyport and twenty-nine other towns as a way to rekindle interest in East Coast downtown communities. Santa Claus, who had arrived for the town holiday parade by air as early as 1947, continued his grand entrances via plane or parachute. Circuses - which had used the grounds periodically since the 1920s - horse shows, and air shows also continued to draw spectators to the airfield. Plum Island also continued its connection to the military by remaining a base for the Civil Air Patrol and serving as a testing site in 1955 for the Raytheon Manufacturing Company’s new military radar equipment.
By the late 1960s, however, change was once again in the air. In 1966, Richard Hordon purchased the airport operation from Frothingham, who had run the airport for over thirty years. In 1968, the Spencer-Peirce-Little House, part of the estate from which the airport leased its land, became a National Historic Landmark. In 1971, Agnes and Amelia Little deeded the entire estate to Historic New England (then the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) with life rights. A new era for the airport had begun.