Mon, Apr 15th, 2024


Ithaca Airport at 50

On July 1st 1956, 23 separate parcels, collectively known as the East Hill Airport, were conveyed by Cornell University to Tompkins County and the airport became the Tompkins County Airport (now known as the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport).

On July 1st 2006 we mark the 50th anniversary of that purchase. In reviewing the title certification by the County Attorney at that time, Charles H. Newman, the sale was subject to the land being used as a public airport only, with all existing leases, rights of way, utility easements and building ownership continuing.

Most of the buildings were owned by Mohawk Airlines who also held most of the leases. A farmer by the name of Robert Criss was allowed to farm 70 acres of land northeast of the runway. This lessee agreed “not to plant or cultivate any of the lands closer than 150 feet from the center line of the hard surface portion of the runway…..” and further agreed “not to plant any crops on any of the leased property which will exceed 5 feet in height.”   There was even a verbal lease for a dwelling house at No. 38 Sapsucker Woods Road. A certain Major W. Coburn “was told he could occupy the premises until June, 1957.”

Tompkins County Airport – July 1950

Amazingly, the Mohawk administration building and some of the old hangars still stand, awaiting a wrecking ball just as soon as Phase III of Taughannock Aviation’s redevelopment program is complete. As you might expect, in the 50 years of County ownership the airport has seen several major development projects including the second of two runway extensions in 1993, the creation of the new terminal complex in 1994, and two of the three phases of a new general aviation facility. All told over $ 25 million, mostly federal funding, has been spent on these improvements. It is also noteworthy that during that entire five-decade period there have only been three airport managers.

You may also be interested to know that fifty years ago when the County was buying the airport for $ 324,500, average income was $ 4,454, a Ford car could be purchased for $ 1,748, an average house cost $ 22,000, a postage stamp was $ 0.03, a 6-pack of Rheingold Beer (12 oz. size) was $ 1.20 and, most depressing of all, gas was $ 0.23 a gallon.

Bob Nicholas

Airport Manager

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