Walter C. Davis, Sr.


Information researched and written by Eugene Stegall.
The first heavier-than-air craft to land in Richmond was a Martin TT flown by a Chicago aviator, Louis Gerstner at the Fall Festival on 1912. On October 16, 1916, during the Fall Festival of that year Gerstner made flights from the Joseph H. Hill farm, northeast of the city.
     On July 3, 1919, Captain Guy Wainwright, U.S. Army, and Carl Fisher of Indianapolis Speedway Fame, laying out a new army air route between Indianapolis and Dayton came to Richmond to announce the city has been designated as the half-way station on the route. Airway markers were painted on the roofs of several buildings.
     The first airport near Richmond was established on land owned by Claude Berry on U.S. 27, north of Reid Hospital in 1919. Harry W. Chenoweth, Sr., a Richmond automobile dealer, with Ed F. Rodefeld, a World War I pilot, built a hangar and leased the field for operation until 1921. The marked the start of the first commercial aviation venture in this part of the state.
     After the Chenoweth-Rodefeld venture ended in 1921, others to lease the Berry field included Erett Williams, Milton "Red" Hirschberger, and various other itinerant barnstormers. General James H. Doolittle landed there on flights from Wright field in Dayton, Ohio.
     In 1920, Mr. Berry purchased a tract of land east of Centerville and later leased it to the Richmond airways corporation formed by L.F. Miller and L.R. "Tat" Lower--Cambridge City businessmen. A Waco-10 biplane, powered by an OX-5 Curtiss engine, was purchased, hangars were built, gasoline pumps installed and the field was put into operation. Planes owned by several local pilots were stored there, including Ed Rodefeld, Walter Davis, and the Lontz brothers, and others.
     Soon after the field was opened, it was used as a test field for aircraft produced by the Davis Aircraft Corporation, and Richmond concern operated by Walter C. Davis. The factory closed in 1930 after a fire damaged it and destroyed several planes. There are a few Davis planes in operation today, and they are classified as rare antiques.
     Transcontinental Transport, now TWA, sent Charles A. Lindberg as he blazed a trail for the company's new continent spanning airplane. In the early 1930s including the Curtiss Condors and Ford Trimotors made emergency landings at the field.
     Flying moved to a new high in 1936 when the management was taken over by the Delaware Fliers from Muncie: Al Heath, Russ Morris, R.A. "Bob" McDaniels. These three staged a number of events which captures the public fancy and attracted new students for ground and flight instruction, including Miss Helen Wetherill, Richmond's first female pilot.
     In October, 1938, Morris and McDaniels staged an endurance flight in a 40 HP Taylorcraft airplane, establishing a record of 130 hours aloft.

Agitation to have the city acquire and operate the airport started as early as 1935 when a resolution signed by Walter Davis, Wm. Romey, Harry Bockoff, and Ed Rodefeld urged the city to purchase the property.
     After much preliminary work, an ordinance was introduced in 1941 providing that the city acquire an airport. The ordinance was adopted in April, 1942, and the first Board of Aviation Commissioners was named.
     Acting on request of the Commission, the city on January 18, 1943 authorized the sale of bonds for the purchase of the present municipal airport.

Construction of the airport was completed on September 30, 1944, and it was dedicated on July 4, 1945.
     Late in 1944, when the Civil Air Patrol, operated by Ed. F. Rodefeld, was denied the use of the municipal airport and the Centerville airport was closed, Mr. Rodefeld established the east Richmond airport on a portion of his farm, primarily for the use of the Civil Air Patrol. East Richmond was the hub of most flying activities until the property was sold for industrial development. {This is the area around Industrial Parkway that I mentioned in an earlier post.}
     The Richmond Municipal Airport remains as the Center of Commercial and General aviation activities with greatly expanded services and facilities."

Editor's Note:
This document was found on the Ultimate Bulletin Board.
It had been submitted by Jeff Shirazi of Columbus, Ohio.
His remarks are as follows:

Here is the info I found in a framed statement at the Richmond airport on 9/5/1999.
I'm not sure how old this document is.
Questions I have:
1. Does anyone know who Mr. Eugene Stegall is?
3. He mentions commercial aviation. Does that mean that Richmond once had scheduled flights?
4. I have heard that Richmond was designed with a backup to Wright Patterson base in Dayton. Any truth here?
5. Have the runways always been as long as they currently are?
Not sure who can answer these.
Any one have any other questions?

Walter C. Davis, Sr. died in 1952
From The Early Birds of Aviation ROSTER, 1996
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