Kane County History: Aviation Began Takeoff at Elgin Hoornbeek Airfield

Kane County History: Aviation Began Takeoff at Elgin Hoornbeek Airfield

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Elgin History Museum Curator of Collections Beth Nawara.

During the early days of aviation, airplanes landed on airfields. This meant land that was flat and free of obstructions.

Many airfields were farmer’s fields. One popular airfield in Elgin was “The Maples” — more commonly referred to as the Hoornbeek Airfield on the Brewster Hoornbeek farm along Mclean Boulevard and Larkin Avenue.

The Hoornbeek family kept an Airship Log from 1915 to 1921 documenting many of the airships that landed at their airfield, including taking photographs of the airplanes. The first airship to land here was in August 1915. It “was DeLoyd Thompson’s when he flew and stunted at the races.”

The Hoornbeek’s also kept track of airplanes that did not quite make it safely to their airfield. On May 10, 1919, Lt. Ziegler crash landed about two miles south of the airfield. The day after the Ziegler crash, Brewster Hoornbeek and his wife, Olive, were both passengers on their first airship rides on separate flights. They both flew over Elgin in planes on training runs from Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul.

On May 30, 1919, the Hoornbeeks went to Rantoul for Illinois Day, part of a Memorial Day observance. They witnessed Lt. James W. Welch make the field altitude record of 19,500 feet in a DeHaviland plane that day. That airship had a 400 horse-powered motor that could travel up to 135 miles per hour.

The program for the day’s event is in the Airship Log. There was a “formation flight with ships piloted by Chanute Field Aviators.” Field Aviators, American Aces or pilots officially credited with having brought down at least five enemy planes during World War I, performed acrobatic flying. Beginning at 8:30 in the evening, “night flying and illuminated demonstrations by local flyers were included in a demonstration of combat conditions and the destruction of an enemy fort by airplanes.”

According to the Airship Log, on Aug. 1, 1919, “Society Brand airship arrived from Chicago at 10 a.m. It was a Curtis plane with a Curtis motor. It was the first air express package delivery to arrive in Elgin. It brought a shipment of clothing from Chicago to the Mike Plaut Company.

The plane had a unique checkerboard pattern on its wings. The local paper reported on the event. “The pilot will be met by a special committee headed by Mayor A.E. Price. An auto truck will rush the merchandise from the field to the store.”

On Aug. 28, 1920, during the Road Race, the Airship Log recorded “Blair’s and Stewart’s only passenger ships. Nelson Kelly landed here with Al Schillo to view the races. John De Palos, DePalma’s nephew, an aviator made a flight with Blair. Parachute drop Dan Heenan.” Ralph DePalma was a Road Race driver and race winner.”

The Hoornbeek Airfield became an airport in 1926 with longer runways, a beacon light along Route 20, and a hangar for airplanes. In 1930, there was a fire at the Hoornbeek Airport. By that time, most planes and pilots were using the new Elgin Airport at the Earle Kelley Farm along Route 31 and what would become the Route 90 tollway.

For more information on early flight in Elgin, take a look at a Museum Moment on Elgin aviator Dick Peck: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0Q0B1ue54s&ab_channel=ElginHistoryMuseum

About The Elgin History Museum

The Elgin History Museum is housed in an 1856 landmark building known as Old Main that was once part of the Elgin Academy campus. The Elgin Area Historical Society, which was founded in 1961, is a thriving organization that operates within the museum. The society has a board of directors with a mission that is driven to preserve and educate the community about Elgin history.

The Elgin History Museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Two floors of Elgin history exhibits pull you back in time to remember how the community developed from 1835 to today.

For more information, visit elginhistory.org.

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