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Douple seaplane hangar #38 at Miller Army Airfield

Photo from National Register colleciton

Miller Army Airfield, on New York's Staten Island, was established from 1919 to 1921 as part of the aerial coast defense system formed to supplement existing coast defenses, and reflects early, experimental years in aviation history. The field was well located for harbor defense purposes as it was centrally situated between Fort Wadsworth and Fort Hamilton on either side of the narrows, Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook and Fort Tilden on the Rockway Peninsula. The Miller Army Airfield Historic District includes a double seaplane hangar and lighthouse. The double seaplane hangar, constructed in 1920, is the most important building remaining at Miller Field because of its direct association with early aviation history. The Monitot Type hangar was constructed by Smith, Hansen and MacIssac and Rangely Construction Company, both of New York. The seaplane hangar was constructed as part of the Hangar Group of Buildings which included an airplane hangar, an aero repair shop, a boiler house, an aero store-house, a motor test house, an armorers house, a fuel additive house, a pier and boat house, a gasoline pumping system, a water supply system and sewer system. Of these buildings only Hangar #38 remains. It is a steel frame structure with stuccoed walls, originally consisting of two bays, side by side, each measuring 110 by160 feet with full-width lift doors on the northeast end. From 1935 to 1939, the Works Progress Administration built several additions. A two-story, flat-roofed west wing was built of steel and concrete, as was the boiler room, and extends halfway along the southern side of the hangar. On the eastern side is a similar wing, one-story high, with a slightly pitched roof on steel beams, which extends around to the southern side as well. Seaplane Hangar #38 is believed to be a unique design among early military aviation bases. A survey of seaplane hangars revealed that although several early hangars with varying degrees of alterations could be found along the Eastern Seaboard, a hangar located at Crissy Field, in San Francisco most closely resembled the Seaplane Hangar at Miller Army Airfield.

In 1923, one of the first of a series of tests made at Miller Field by private aircraft manufacturers was conducted on the Remington-Burnelli aircraft. Bellanca Aircraft Corporation utilized the hangars at Miller Field during the summer of 1928. In the spring of the following year, the American Aeronautical Corporation assembled and tested two Italian seaplanes, one SS-55 twin hulled Savoia-Marchetti flying boat and one S-62 Savoia-Marchetti flying boat. In 1926 a training session for eight Army Air Service pilots who were preparing for a good will Pan-American flight through North, Central and South America was held here. One of the planes to be used, a Looning Amphibian, was tested at the field. Popular aviation heroes also visited and used Miller Field. Famed Arctic pilot Floyd Bennett arrived at Miller Field in the spring of 1928 to prepare for an emergency flight to rescue downed fliers on Greenly Island, Canada. Bennett and his party left Miller Field on April 19. During the flight Bennett contracted pneumonia and died in a hospital in Quebec later that month.

[photo] Elm Tree Light, Miller Army Airfield
Photo from National Register colleciton

The Elm Tree Light, a light station that operated throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, replaced a large elm tree at the foot of New Dorp Lane that served as a mark in the late 18th century for sailing vessels going from New York, Middletown and Brunswick. Although the light station was abandoned in 1924, the lighthouse remains on its site to the rear of the hangars. The Elm Tree Light is a significant part of the historic setting and reflects the 200-year long history of continued land use at its site.

In 1973, Miller Field was acquired by the National Park Service as part of the Gateway National Recreation Area. At that time, about 24 buildings and structures from the air field remained. All of the buildings were in deteriorated conditions at the time of the acquisition, especially the two hangars. The condition of the airplane hangar (Building 33) in particular had reached such a state of deterioration that renovation was no longer practical and the hangar was demolished. Other buildings were renovated to provide housing and today the Elm Tree Light and Hangar #38 best reflect the history of the airfield.

Miller Field is located on Staten Island, New York, and is part of the National Park Service's Gateway National Recreation Area, a 26,000-acre recreation area located in the heart of the New York metropolitan area. Access to Miller Field is from community streets (Hylan and Father Capodanno blvds. and connecting sts.). Miller Field is a heavily used recreational area throughout the year and provides half of the recreational field use available to Staten Islanders. The Staten Island Bicycling Association meets weekly at Miller Field to begin their cycling tours. The current bicycle path runs from South Beach to Midland Beach and plans call for bicycle connections from St. George at the Staten Island ferry terminal through Fort Wadsworth and Miller Field to Great Kills park and Tottenville at the south end of the island. There is no fee for admission. Call Miller Field/Staten Island at 718-351-6970 or visit the park's website.


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