Ask Hamilton – Aviation in Chattanooga

(Above) Airplane at Lovell Field circa 1941

Aviation in Chattanooga

 

Photos Courtesy of Chattanooga Public Library, chattanoogahistory.com

 

Dear Hamilton,

I was recently planning some holiday travels, and while booking my flight out of the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, I found myself wondering about Chattanooga’s aviation past. What was the airport like in its infancy?

Sincerely,

Perplexed Passenger

 

Charles Lindebergh's Spirit of St. Louis at Marr Field in 1927

Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis at Marr Field in 1927

 

 

Dear Perplexed Passenger,

The Scenic City and commercial aviation have a storied history – one that dates back to the 1910s when the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce first started planning to open an airport.

It wasn’t until 1919 that the Chamber finally secured leases for a property located north of Glass Street along Dodson Avenue that would serve as the city’s primary airport. The airport was dubbed Marr Field after Walter L. Marr, an engineer who became very engrained in the project and could be found operating large machines during the construction phase.

 

Traffic control tower at Lovell field circa 1942

Lovell Field circa 1942

 

 

The airport was officially opened in November of 1919, and the first planes that arrived later that month came from Canton, Ohio. Thanksgiving Day saw a grand celebration, and passenger flights were offered for a rate of $15. Soon, Marr Field was marketing ‘short hops’ for $3, a flight over Lookout Mountain for $5, and a trip beyond Signal Mountain for $10.

Marr Field continued to be a hub for aviators for nearly a decade, even welcoming the famous Charles Lindbergh and his Spirit of St. Louis in 1927. Around that time, however, the airport was the site of several tragedies attributed mostly to archaic equipment and its less-than-ideal location between a railroad and the foggy and windy Missionary Ridge.

 

 

traffic control tower at lovell field circa 1942

Traffic Control Tower at Lovell Field circa 1942

 

 

It was in the spring of 1927 that onlookers watched as a plane plunged to the ground, and the next year an airmail plane crashed, killing four. These incidents were enough to suspend all passenger flights, and the following years saw an onslaught of changes and improvements. Even then, the damage had been done. Unfavorable comments about the airport and landing site had spread and tarnished Marr Field’s reputation.

The following year, in 1929, city leaders incited a change and purchased a farm property for $29,000 for what is home to today’s Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport. The site was named Lovell Field after Chamber of Commerce member John Lovell.

 

 

Henry Porter flight school circa 1960

Harry Porter Flight School circa 1960

 

 

In 1930, a three-story terminal along with hangars and a gas station was constructed, and the new airport, built on 216 acres, had a 3,300-foot unpaved main runway and a 2,400-foot unpaved crosswind runway. By 1935, the old Marr Field had ceased to operate, while Lovell Field continued to boom, expanding and paving its runways in 1936.

Over the next decade and a half, Lovell Field saw both passenger and airmail planes come and go, and it even served as a military training site during World War II. By the 1950s, aviation had gained popularity, and Lovell Field grew with it – welcoming an expansion in both 1950 and 1955 and an entirely new facility in 1964.

 

 

President Lydon B. Johnson at Lovell Field circa 1964

President Lyndon B. Johnson After Landing at Lovell Field circa 1964

 

 

Today, Lovell Field remains a popular hub for air travel. Now situated on 950 acres, the airport connects travelers to destinations through airlines Allegiant, American Airlines, Delta, and United.

The airport continues to innovate: The facility was the United States’ first 100% solar-powered airport, with its multi-megawatt solar farm located at the southwest corner of the airfield. Construction on a new parking deck is now underway, and there are hopes to expand the current passenger terminal, which was designed by global design firm Gensler and opened in 1992.

So, there you have it. From the inauspicious Marr Field to today’s burgeoning Lovell Field, aviation has and will continue to play a major role as a transportation center for Chattanooga.

Hope this helps!

Hamilton Bush
Resident History Hound
Chattanooga, Tennessee

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