The old Morris park racetrack is famous – but how about some love for the Morris Park Aerodrome?
A local historian hopes his efforts to recognize his hometown’s unique aviation past will get off the ground.
Morris Park is well known for its namesake racetrack, which hosted the Belmont Stakes from the mid-19th century until 1904. But an archivist at Fordham Prep has tracked down evidence that the east Bronx neighborhood was once also home to some of the world’s first glimpses of flying machines.
First helicopter flight
“There’s very little of Morris Park history that we celebrate and put out on public display, “ said Louis DiGiorno, who came across his nabe’s aviation past while researching Fordham Prep alumni, many of whom were pilots. “With something this important, we should think about marking it.”
In 1908, the New York Aeronautical Society rented out the former Morris Park racetrack and invited some of the world’s aviation inventors – including the creator of the helicopter – to try out their flying machines at the site.
“Wilbur H. Kimbull’s heliocopter, upon which he has been working for several years, is being assembled at Morris Park and by the end of the week he expects to be ready to try the ascensional power of the machine,” read a story in the September 7, 1908 New York Times.
The airplanes that made it into the air did not go far. The show’s organizers removed the fences around the old racetrack to create an “unobstructed straightway for a flight of at least one kilometer,” according to the Times.
Some of the machines were able to take off — others just looked very impressive.
“The airplane that won design for best airplane couldn’t even fly,” said borough historian Lloyd Ultan.
The racetrack burned down a few years later, said Ultan, before the land was auctioned off in 1913 to residential real estate developers.
DiGiorno has proposed a plaque or flag in recognition of the area’s aviation history to Community Board 11.
He’s even got a neighborhood tagline ready:
“Morris park: looking up since 1908.”