Glenn Curtiss Slept Here
Has Hammondsport, New York, done right by its most famous citizen?
- By Phil Scott
- Air & Space magazine, July 2006
NASM (SI Neg. #00156158)
(Page 2 of 4)
Now a group wants to change that. For starters, Curtiss supporters hope to fly the museum’s replica of the June Bug in 2008, on the 100th anniversary of that flight. But beyond that, the group, the Friends of Hammondsport, wants to build an 11-acre Glenn H. Curtiss Memorial Park along the southern shore of Keuka Lake. They envision erecting a wrought-iron gate at the entrance, as well as a wall with the names of Curtiss, his family, and the people who worked with him and flew his machines in those early days of aviation. Something substantial. After all, the lake is where Curtiss and his team made history.
Carl Slater, an 82-year-old Hammondsport native, says his father (born in 1894) would ride his bicycle down to watch men tinker with an early airplane. “Curtiss needed a part from his shop,” Slater says, “and he had no transportation, so he asked Dad if he could borrow his bicycle. He borrowed it and rode it up there. Here is a master of all transportation, and he has to borrow a bicycle from a local kid. Curtiss asked Dad if he liked to swim and Dad says ‘Yes,’ and he said ‘You can come down to the dock anytime you want to,’ and my dad took him up on it.”
The 11 acres the Friends want to transform is owned by the H&B Railroad, which was built around the turn of the last century to transport wine grapes from Hammondsport to Bath, a small town seven miles south. An abandoned train depot sits on the land, as does a garbage dump.
The railroad wants to sell the acreage; it is required to offer it to the village first. It’s asking $1.35 million. So far the Friends have raised 10 percent of that ($5,000 came from the surprisingly still-extant Curtiss-Wright Corporation, which now manufactures stuff like nuclear power plant valves—it’s gotten out of the aircraft and engine business). The Friends have until July 31 to raise the other $1.2 million.
HAMMONDSPORT’S Village Tavern, the proverbial clean well-lighted place, sits just north of the town square. On the walls hang pictures of Curtiss, protégé Blanche Scott, and lots of Curtiss aircraft imagery. A pusher propeller, on loan from the museum, is on one wall, while from the ceiling hang models of Curtiss airplanes. Paul Geisz, the ex-cop, is the tavern’s most recent owner.
Before the lunch rush, Geoffrey Grimsman sits just inside the door at a round table. A motion picture set designer who has a vacation home in Hammondsport, Grimsman is blond with intense blue eyes. As we drink coffee, he brings up a recent visit to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He says the Friends’ park fight is a lot like that. Not like the battle itself, but the more recent dispute between those who want to leave the battlefield as it has been preserved, and those who want to surround it with strip malls and hotels.
The Friends recently tried to raise the money through a referendum, which was voted on in July 2004. “The cost per taxpayer would amount to a 12-pack of Pepsi or Coke a month,” he says.
“For how long?” I ask.
“Twenty years,” he replies.
That’s a lot of soda.