A Nation in Motion: Payne Field

Today we continue a series based on the Mississippi entries from the 1976 document A Nation in Motion: Historic American Transportation Sites.  The remaining Mississippi entries have to do with aviation sites.  If you are just joining us the background is that an informal compilation of nationally important transportation sites sprang from a 1973 suggestion by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to the United States Department of Transportation.  Its purpose was not to be a definitive listing of significant transportation sites, but rather a collection of information on transportation-related sights that might be considered for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.  There were a total of five separate entries for Mississippi.  We’re looking at each item to see what their status is today.  This may give us some insight as to how effective this type of document is.


 

Curtiss JN-4 airplanes in a hangar at Payne Field, West Point, Clay County. photo by U.S. Signal Corps. c1918 accessed from Wikipedia 6-23-2014

Curtiss JN-4 airplanes (also known as Flying Jennys) perported to be in hangar at Payne Field, West Point, Clay County. photo by U.S. Signal Corps. c1918 accessed from Wikipedia 6-23-2014

 Mississippi 1918: Payne Field, West Point, was the site of an advanced aviation school which operated from May 1918 to March 1920.  It consisted of 533 acres and cost $891,340.  About 1500 pilots were trained using 125 Curtiss jn-4 planes.  The field was named for Captain Dewitt J. Payne.

Payne Field can be considered Mississippi’s first purpose built airport.  Its runways, layout, hangars and buildings were based on a standard design by Albert Kahn, a Detroit based architect famous for his industrial and engineering designs (Kahn’s brother’s engineering design is what saved the Webster County Courthouse from being destroyed by fire last year).  Kahn’s firm created the plan that was used for multiple Army Air Corps fields in a staggering ten days.   The entire air field was built in a matter of two months.   In 1919 the Army had made the decision to abandon ten fields include Payne.   It was announced in May of 1920 that the field had been sold to Inter-State Airplane Co., who soon after abandoned the location as an airfield and the contents of the base were sold for scrap in 1921-1922.

Outcome:   This is another curious entry in the Nation In Motion document.  The language of the entry was lifted directly from a Magnolia Marker dedicated at the site in the West Point vicinity on August 23, 1968.  The site had been destroyed more than 50 years prior to 1976 NIM publishing date and by that point a marker had already been in place eight years.  So copying and pasting the language into a 1976 document did little if anything.  While a significant location in Mississippi and Aviation history, there was nothing left to preserve and a historic marker had already been placed at the site.  I’m not sure what value including this location in Nation In Motion had.

Current status:  Payne field is currently undeveloped private property.  It does have an entry in the MDAH HRI database, with inventory number “025-WPT-5008-X”.  The “X” at the end of the survey number indicated that the survey entry no longer exist.  I believe Payne Field also has the largest Wikipedia entry of all the locations in this series.

 

This is the fourth post in the series reviewing the Mississippi entries in the Department of Transportation’s A Nation in Motion: Historic American Transportation Sites.  To see all the posts in the series click here.



Categories: Historic Preservation, West Point

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