The Restless Viking: Captain Clinton F. Woolsey Airport

This article was written by Martha Hayden and originally appeared on the Restless Viking website on May 9, 2023.

My first sight of the Woolsey Airport had been four years ago on a Restless Viking video. I knew this unique stone structure must have a story. In May 2023, My husband, Chuck, “DaViking” and I made a stop as we drove around the “pinky peninsula” known as Leelanau County. Why had this structure been built? When did this land become an airport? Captain Clinton F. Woolsey and the Woolsey Airport carry a fascinating history that stretches over a century. Join us as we learn about this most unique place that has spanned the aviation era.

The Woolsey Memorial Airport’s field stone terminal has a 1900’s feel. It sits adjacent to East Woolsey Lake Road near Northport, Michigan.

Historical Marker

The historical marker gave us a glimpse into the past. Byron Woolsey had donated some of his dairy farm to be made into an airfield as a memorial to his son, Captain Clinton F. Woolsey who had died in 1926.

The historical marker shared the facts, but left me curious to know more about Capt. Clinton F. Woolsey.

Lynn Cantos, Woolsey’s great niece, had started a campaign to add a historical marker to the airport grounds in 2018. At 12:00 pm on July 14, 2021 the dedication ceremony had hosted five speakers and a U. S. Coast Guard fly over at 12:15. This ceremony had taken place exactly 86 years after the original dedication of The Clinton F. Woolsey Memorial Airport which had been on July 14, 1935.

The Record Eagle had interviewed Lynn Cantos. “He (Clinton F. Woolsey) designed a plane called the Woolsey Bomber,” Contos said. “It was his plan to do the first transatlantic flight.” However, Clinton had been called to serve his country. Cantos had wanted her great uncle to be remembered for the advancements he’d made in aviation.

This historical marker had not been on display when Chuck and his pilot friends had made a landing at Woolsey in 2019. The group of four had needed to wait for the fog to clear on their way to Fox Island. At that time, the quartet of flying navigators had explored this stone structure wondering what it had once been.

Captain Clinton F. Woolsey – An Aviation Legacy

Learning about Captain Woolsey gave me a chill. He had been an amazing person! In 1924 Clinton F. Woolsey had earned his pilot’s license, which had been endorsed by Orville Wright. Flying had been a new technology at that time and C. F. Woolsey was one of only two hundred men in the nation who had this skill.

This license holds the story from the beginning of aviation. Photo Credit: The Record Eagle

C.F. Woolsey had been known to instruct others who were capable and interested in learning to fly. One of his students was believed to have been Charles Lindbergh, who on May 21, 1927 had been the first solo pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean nonstop from New York to Paris.

Pan-American Goodwill Flight

Capt. Clinton F. Woolsey had been one of ten pilots chosen to fly in the Pan-American Good Will Flight. This had included five two-seater planes. (pictured below) Each plane was named for an American city. Woolsey had piloted The Detroit.

The five pairs would be flying 22,000 miles with open cockpits at 90 miles an hour. The teams would fly in formation land at 23 capital cities in Central and South America. They had started in San Antonio, Texas on December 21, 1926 and had a planned agenda through May of 1927.

Capt. C.F. Woolsey and Grover stand next to a Loening OA-1A airplane, This was taken in December 1926. Photo Credit: The Record Eagle

The mission for this trip was to capture the interest of the Latin-American countries encouraging them to develop aviation accommodations as many areas in these countries didn’t have rail lines or roads for reliable transportation. The airplane could provide communication and supply deliveries to these remote locations. Flying had been a new method and needed to be ‘advertised.’ Each landing included diplomatic meetings with representatives from the regions.

The Tragic Accident

Capt. C.F. Woolsey and Lt. J.W. Benton leaving Coquimbo on February 18, 1927.

On February 26, 1927 The Detroit had collided with The New York while flying in the clouds on route to Bueno Aires . Both men from the New York had successfully ejected from their plane and survived. The landing gear of The Detroit had been damaged.

Woolsey’s co-pilot, John W. Benton, had climbed out of his seat during the flight and was reported to have been on the wing attempting to repair the damage. It is believed that Woolsey had refused to eject and had attempted to land in order to save his partner. Heartbreakingly, their landing had been fatal.

Capt. Ira Eaker, another pilot from the group, had watched the whole ordeal from his plane. “I have never witnessed a more courageous sacrifice.”

A Dedication to Aviation

Capt. C. F. Woolsey Photo from Interlochen Public Radio

Byron Woolsey, Clinton’s 85 year old father, had wanted to honor his son and continue the progress being made in aviation. Byron had dedicated 80 acres of his dairy farm along with the stone structure, believed to have been the creamery, for an airport. Leelanau Township added 120 adjoining acres. In the winter of 1933-1934 The Civil Works Progress Administration, which had been part of “The New Deal,” had assigned men to construct a grass runway and remodel the fieldstone building into an airport terminal. The airport had been dedicated on July 14, 1935.

The Woolsey Memorial Airport as seen from the road.

Being able to touch tangible pieces of Clinton F. Woolsey’s story and his father’s dedication had been remarkable. These stones have observed the entire history of aviation which has transcended a century. I encourage you to take an up close look-see and to touch a piece of history. The Woolsey Memorial Airport is located at 13591 East Woolsey Lake Road, Northport, MI 49670.

Chuck and Martha Hayden, aka The Viking and Poppins, enjoy going on adventures off the beaten path. They also like to share their explorations with others. The Viking is a retired expedition leader while Poppins is a retired teacher. The two offer independent views of their journeys showcasing places, people, and cultures as they explore the world. Visit and follow them on their website and social media accounts. Website | Facebook | Instagram |YouTube

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