“The Neatest Place in the World”

Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Recently, a researcher inquired about the location of Newton’s Airport. He had found an older map that show an airport at the north end of Newton.


After some investigation, stories about this earlier airport were discovered.  He wrote of his findings and on-going research on his blog the Changelog. We thought we would share some stories discovered as we assisted him in his research.

Last week’s post featured an Aviation Meet held in 1911. The information for this post comes from  a short document by Ernest Unruh, which can be found in the Archives.

The Neatest Place in the World

Unruh wrote of his adventures growing up on the north edge of Newton, Ks.

“When I was a youngster growing up, I thought I lived in the ‘neatest’ place in the world.”

Ernest ‘Ernie’ Unruh was born in April 1920 to Henry F. and Susie Unruh.  The family lived at 117 East 17th St., Newton, Ks.

Detail of Henry F. Unruh Property and City of Newton Property,  Standard Atlas of Harvey County, 1918

Ernie’s father, Henry, ran a service station at 1812 N. Main for many years.

Henry F. Unruh in front of his service station at 1812 N. Main, Newton, Ks, ca. 1920s.

The area east and north of the Unruh home between the Missouri Pacific Railway Tracks (Mopy**), 22nd Street, and Anderson Road was known as the “golf links.” ***  With the nearby train tracks and large open area, there were many activities to occupy young Ernie.

Six days a week a freight and passenger train would travel toward McPherson in the morning and return in the evening on the Mopy tracks and Ernie was there to watch.

“Every chance I had I would watch the trains go by so I could wave at the crews.” 

In the 1920s, the open area north of Newton was  a favorite place for pilots to land and take off.

Ernie Unruh remembered;

I was fascinated by airplanes. When I would hear one, I would search the sky until I spotted it and then I would follow it until it was out of sight.  Many planes would go almost directly overhead going both directions, north or south . . . more and more planes were using the golflinks as a landing field.  When a plane was going to land, it would generally circle the town first.  I’d jump on my bike and head out to the landing field.  If at all possible I tried to see every plane that landed. Sometimes I would be the first person there to meet the people aboard.  On occasion I would make phone calls for the people . . . for a taxi.”

One time was particularly memorable:

“In about 1924, my Aunt Helen took us to the golflinks to see an airplane. . . .  What I saw was a huge plane that was bright yellow and blue.  It looked like it was made of celluloid.  It looked to me like it was too big to fly.”

“A Fine Open Stretch”

In July 1927, the golf links area, “a fine open stretch of 70 acres, just west of the end of the Main Street paving north of the city,” became the official airport for the city of Newton.

Ernie recalled that  “a two plane hanger had been built along the Mopy right-of-way to house a Swallow owned by Bert Wright and a Travel Air owned by Ira Burke.” Another local aviator, Bud Nellans, stored his Army Jenny outside.

Grand Opening of the Newton Airport

Evening Kansan Republican, 20 July 1927, p. 1.

Evening Kansan Republican, 22 July 1927, p. 1.

The dedication of the new airport, planned by the Newton Chamber of Commerce, was described as a “thrilling event.” On July 23, 1927, eleven planes participated in the grand opening with an attendance of 5,000 people.

Walter Beech, Wichita, flew his Travelair to Newton carrying “two of Newton’s own celebrities, Mrs. Eleanora Ambrose Maurice, internationally famed dancer, and Lieut. Ennis C. Whitehead, world known as a member of the Pan-American good will flight.”  As Beech circled the field, “Mrs. Maurice dropped flowers on the field, dedicating it to the progress and prosperity of aviation.”

Planes from Fort Riley flew in formation over the field.  The editor also noted that

“Passenger planes at the field were busy until dark taking Newton people up for a ride in the clouds.”

Ira Burke’s brother, Billie Burke, “favored the throngs with some spectacular stunt flying.” Seven year old Ernie considered Billie Burke his “idol.

Burke “flew  a blue Stearman with silver wings equipped wit a propeller driven siren, and, when he flew over town, he would release the brake on the siren for a short time.  It could be heard all over town. . . many times , he would do acrobatics over the town before he would land.” ****

“American Ace”

The new airport also provided opportunities for advertising local businesses. One savvy businessman used the popularity of flying and planes to promote his product.

Rudy Goerz, 1922.

“Rudy Goerz, owner of the big flour mill on east Broadway sponsored a plane to advertise his ‘American Ace’ flour . . . The plane had an emblem  of a flour bag painted on it’s fuselage showing a pilot’s head complete with helmet and goggles and “American Ace.” 

To promote the flour, pilots, Eddie Rickenbacker and Dillard Kennell, flew the plane with all over the United States.

The planes were also a source of entertainment for local people.

“There were three different Ford tri-motors that came in periodically to give rides . . . Many pilots would come in to give rides.”

By  1940, the City of Newton had decided to move the airport.  A strip of land three miles east of Main between 1st and 24th streets was purchased.  The new airport was named Wirt Field in honor of Frank Wirt, the local Dodge dealer, who was killed in a private plane crash.


  • **The Missouri Pacific Railway was locally known as “MoPac,” “Mop,” and “Mopy.”  Unruh uses “Mopy” in his document.


  • ***Today, the area is known as the Northridge Addition.  Unruh also notes that the “golf links” was the forerunner of the Newton Country Club.”  He  noted that the area was a popular place for carnivals to set up for a week at a time.
  • ****William “Billie” Burke was a well-known aviator in Kansas and Oklahoma and a contemporary of other well-known aviators like Walter Beech and Clyde Cessna. Burke drowned in 1928, when the plane he was flying over a reservoir hit a high tension wire and went down in the water.  Unruh recalled that   Ira, a brother, “was devastated. He sold his plane.”

Billie Burke and Family 1927           William Burke Jr Collection http://earlyaviators.com/eburke.htm


  • Unruh, Ernest “Ernie”. “Newton’s First Airport” typewritten, undated document. HCHM Archives, HC Residents Box 1 B, FF 13.
  • Standard Atlas of Harvey County, 1918, HCHM Archives.
  • From the WPA Book, “American Guide – Transportation” ca. 1930s: “Newton has no approved airport, but the city maintains a landing field on the southwest quarter of Section 5, Twp. 23 South-Range 1 east or the sixth principal meridian.” HCHM Archives Historical Files “Newton Airport’s.”
  • Evening Kansan Republican: 2 July 1919, 20 July 1927, 22 July 1927, 23 July 1927, 25 July 1927.
  • “William ‘Billie’ Burke” http://earlyaviators.com/eburke.htm
  • Goerzen, John at http://changelog.complete.org/archives/9741-giant-concrete-arrows-old-maps-and-fascinated-kids


An Immense Crowd Was Entertained

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

In the early 1900s, the Newton Commercial Club, which was made up of local businessmen and community leaders, worked tirelessly to promote Newton as prosperous and progressive.

Newton Commercial Club, 1911.

In 1911, the city leaders published Newton, Kansas:  Past and Present, Progress and Prosperity.  The publication included “sketches of various industrial and business concerns representative merchants, those who stand foremost  in the thought and action in Newton.”    

The Commercial Club was also  involved  with planning and promoting an “Aviation Meet” in 1911.  Aviation Meets were started in France in 1909 and were  popular in the United States in 1910 and 1911. Aviation Meets gave pilots a chance to show their skill and thrill spectators  with their daring.

The the spring of 1911, the Mosiant International Aviators were touring the Midwest with stops in Denver and Kansas City.  After several days of negotiation between P.L. Young, General Manager for the group and the Commercial Club of Newton, the Mosiant International Aviators agreed to make a stop in Newton.

Evening Kansan Republican, 25 April 1911, p. 1.

Evening Kansan Republican, 25 April 1911, p. 1.

According to the editor of the Evening Kansan Republican;

never before in history has a city of the size of Newton undertaken such a tremendous project as bringing a real aviation tournament” to the community.

The Moisant International Aviators had been touring the United States for five months.  Rene Barrier and Rene Simon, French aviators, and Capt. John J. Frisbie and Joe Seymour of the United States would be in Newton to demonstrate the planes. The editor of the Evening Kansan Republican declared that Newton was “offering a treat to all Kansas” by hosting this event.

The newspaper editor described the skill of the participants.  Capt. Frisbie, an officer of the United States Aero Reserves, was “one of the most daring biplane operators.”  Another “noted air-pilot,” Joe Seymour, was a “famed auto racer who has taken to aviation.”  

Rene Barrier, Evening Kansan Republican, 25 April 1911, p. 1

Rene Barrier, Evening Kansan Republican, 25 April 1911, p. 1

Frenchman, Rene Barrier was perhaps the most well known at the time.  He was known as “the greatest altitude and cross country flyer” and in November 1910, he had broken the “world’s speed records when flying in a cross city race over Memphis, Tenn.” 

Rene Barrier “starting,” 27 April 1911. Photo by L.W. Sherer. Postcard, HCHM Collection.

Barrier’s machine was a “racing Moisant monoplane” that could travel from 50-70 miles an hour.

The Meet was held at the large open area north of Newton known as the  “golf links.”

Rene Barrier, Aviator at Newton, KS, 27 April  1911. Postcard, HCHM Collection.


Evening Kansan Republican, 27 April 1911, p. 1.

Evening Kansan Republican, 27 April 1911, p. 1.

The next day, the Evening Kansan Republican reported that a crowd of 8,000 spectators, with around 2,000 from out of town, came out to the field to watch the dare devils.

Scenes from the Day

Aviation Meet, Newton, Ks, 27 April 1911. Postcard, HCHM Collection.


Rene Simon above Spectators at Aviation Meet, Newton, Ks 27 April 1911. Postcard, HCHM Collection.


Aviation Meet, 27 April 1911. Postcard, HCHM Collection.

Curious about Newton’s first airport? Our post next week will explore aviation in Newton during the 1920-40s.


  • Evening Kansan Republican: 19 April 1911, 20 April 1911, 25 April 1911, 26 April 1911, 27 April 1911, 2 May 1911
  • Newton Kansas: Past & Present, Progress & Prosperity, 1911. HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.
  • Unruh, Ernest A. “Newton’s First Airport” undated document, Airport File, HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks
  • http://www.earlyaviators.com/ebarrier.htm
  • http://www.earlyaviators.com/esimonre.htm
  • http://www.earlyaviationpioneers.com/eapwelcome.htm

‘What Did It Say To You?” the Art of Vernon Rickman

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Recently, we were pleased to receive a painting by local artist, Vernon R. Rickman, for our collection.  Rickman worked at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for more than 30 years.

He began as technician in 1958. At the time of his retirement in January 1981 he was a senior sculpture. One of many projects he worked on was the Neanderthal figures for the permanent exhibit “Ice Age Mammals and the Emergence of Man.” He later recalled this was one of his favorite projects.  Another project involved preparing full-sized mannequins of Pat Nixon, Betty Ford and Rosalynn Carter for the First Ladies Hall in the National Museum of American History.

During that time, he also painted privately.    His body of work included over 300 oil paintings, in addition to sculptures and reliefs. The collection was donated to the Carriage Factory Art Gallery in Newton, Ks.  One was also given HCHM for our collection of local Harvey County Artists.

Painting by Vernon Rickman. HCHM 2017.1

Vernon Reid Rickman was born in Newton on August 4, 1929 to Theodore and Mattie Jordan Rickman.  He had three sisters and a brother.

Shirley Elliott, a cousin remembered that “he always had a pencil in his hand.” 

At Newton High School he was fortunate to have Marie Orr as an art teacher.  She recognized his talent and encouraged him to explore different mediums throughout high school.  As a senior in 1947 he won the Scholastic art contest and spent a semester at the Cleveland School of Art.

Vernon Rickman. Photo courtesy Julian Wall, Find-A-Grave Memorial Marker #127049881.

After nearly 2 years in the U.S. Army, he enrolled at the University of Kansas. In 1957, he graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.  He began graduate studies at the Kansas City Art Institute, but quit to “earn a living” at the Smithsonian Institution.

After he retired, Rickman returned to Newton where he continued to paint.  A nephew, Michael Scott recalled one visit to Rickman’s home soon after;

“I looked at paintings everywhere . . . paintings in the basement . . . paintings everywhere.  He was painting all the time.”

In 2007, Rickman had a show of his private work at Bethel College.

Vernon died at Kansas Christian Home in Newton on December 27, 2013 at the age of 84.

Examples of his work  can be found at the Carriage Factory Art Gallery, with some available for sale. The Carriage Factory Art Gallery is located at 128 E. 6th, Newton, Ks.

In a conversation about his work with his nephew Ted Scott, who asked, “Where did this come from?” 

Rickman  replied, “you had to figure it out for yourself-what did it say to  you?”


  • Buller, Beverley Olson. “Vernon Rickman Life Sketch,” 2016.
  • “Vernon Rickman” Find-A-Grave Memorial #127049881.
  • http://carriagefactoryartgallery.com/vernon-rickman-exhibit/nggallery/page/1.