Lakes Region Airport
By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper
“The local airport, while small…still attracts the air traveler. It is not uncommon on a summer weekend to see 25 or 30 large four-place planes tied down in the parking area.” Airport News, 1958
After the 1938 Hurricane destroyed a maple syrup operation, Ralph Merwin Horn got permission from his father to replace maple syrup with airplanes. On approximately 100 acres of land at the Wolfeboro Neck property, Horn got to work clearing downed trees and doing the hard work of transforming a hurricane damaged land to an airstrip.
The above quote was from a 1958 Granite State News comment under “Airport News.” Many people are unaware that an airport was built in Wolfeboro in the late 1930s/1940s. It served the area and saw small planes coming and going, bringing vacationers and others to and from the Lakes Region.
Not so many years after the hurricane, World War II broke out, and Horn’s flying knowledge was put to use training military personnel to fly planes in Massachusetts.
Ralph married Eleanor and together they lived in the Wolfeboro area and worked hard to make the airport a going concern. And hard work it was to maintain a small airport that could see private planes arriving at any time of the day or evening; at first, lighting was an issue and smudge pots of fire were lit to illuminate the runway and help pilots land at the airstrip.
A circa 1950s Wolfeboro Chamber of Commerce pamphlet promoting the business calls The Lakes Region Airport and Seaplane Base, “The Friendly Flight Operation” just three miles from Shopping Center on Wolfeboro Neck. The advertisement states that the airport offered Air Taxi Services (to anywhere); Repair Services; Airplane Rentals and Sales and Aerial Photos and Surveys.
Because of its proximity to the water, the pamphlet also states that there was a picnic area, boating and bathing, with parties offered by special arrangement.
Around 1965, the airport was said to have 1,500 ft. of unpaved runway and an adjacent seaplane base, making it a real asset to those who wanted to land via seaplane. According to “History of Wolfeboro 1770-1994” by Q. David Bowers, the Horns seaplane facility was in Winter Harbor, not far from the Lakes Region Airport. It wasn’t unusual to see, in the 1950s, a seaplane in flight. In the summer of 1955 a twin-engine “Catalina” flying boat was utilized by the Navy for seaplane practice. It took off and landed at Winter Harbor during practice, with about eight crewmen aboard.
In the winter of 1951, just about everyone in Wolfeboro was craning their necks and looking up at the sky as a flock of B-36s with jet escorts were dog-fighting over Winnipesaukee. After the display, they flew off towards Portland, Maine. The reason they were in the air above Wolfeboro? It is said the huge bombers had overflown the town on a direct air route from Texas to Europe! It can be sure the Horns were among those watching the unexpected airshow.
Business was steady and in 1974/1975, according to “History of Wolfeboro” by Bowers, the airport expanded its main runway. This was likely because more private planes were making use of the space. In addition, a year-round air taxi service by twin-engine plane was to be offered. At that time, Amphibair, Inc. offered Wolfeboro to Boston air taxi service for $26.00 per person if you had a group of five or more passengers. The service was a great idea, but clearly most who used the airport had their own plane, and the air taxi service ceased due to lack of business.
The airport sought various methods to cater to the public over the years, such as a July 1983 air show sponsored by the Lion’s Club. The event featured stunt flyer Bob Weymouth, a 10 military jet aircraft, and more. Attendance was good, with about 500 people attending the air show; it also featured an antique 53-note National air calliope mounted on a show trailer!
Upkeep is always an issue for a small airstrip, but Ralph and Eleanor had some help in 1984 when 20 members of the International Organization of Women Pilots rolled up their sleeves and painted markings on the runway. It was a big help, because at that time a number of aircraft used the airport.
Even with outside help, Ralph and Eleanor were kept busy for the many years they operated the business. One remembrance on www.winnipesaukee.com recounts that there were often floatplanes at the docks, dozens of aircraft at the tie-downs, three or more aircraft in the hangar for repairs and also some in for routine maintenance, not to mention handling takeoffs and landings both day and night.
Eleanor was an active partner in the business, beside her husband from the early days of the airport. She also was a photographer of some local renown. (Indeed, an internet search under the name Eleanor Horn lists one of her aerial photos that was made into a postcard, showing Wolfeboro from the air and on the back of the card, it is printed that it was published by Gould’s Dime Store, Wolfeboro.)
When she passed away in the late 1980s, Eleanor was honored in Wolfeboro with a flyover of vintage World War II military aircraft. In 1989, scenic rides for charity in the name of the Eleanor Horn Memorial Flight to Fight Cancer was held.
Also, on www.winnipesaukee.com, a remembrance was shared from SeaBees, a water aircraft business: “After receiving gasoline from the Horns' dock, we pushed away and started the engine. The engine coughed a few times and then refused to start. The wind had allowed our craft to drift in the direction of deep water, and I had previously loaned my paddle to another pilot! With Eleanor looking on, she seemed to grasp the seriousness of the situation and did what any matronly and grandmotherly person in a print dress would do: She waded into the lake waist-deep and pulled the SeaBee back to the dock!”
The airport area was busy into the 1990s, and one former customer recalls Saturday hamburger cookouts at the airport, probably gatherings comprised of those who flew private planes in and out of the location.
Another remembers, “To me the airpark was the heart and soul of the Lakes Region.” What this meant was that, for those who used it, the Lakes Region Airport and the seaplane base offered a way to travel to and from the Wolfeboro vicinity faster than by car.
All things come to an eventual end, and the airport eventually ceased operation. Ralph Merwin Horn passed away in the 1990s, but he - and the airport - are fondly remembered by many who once took to the skies from the Lakes Region Airport.