The Miller Field Hangar
Before its military days, Miller Field was home to one of the most prominent American families of the 19th century. In 1836, Cornelius "Commodore" Vanderbilt began purchasing farmland in New Dorp and owned most of what became Miller Field by 1843. The farmland was inherited by his son William, who transferred this property to his son, George Washington Vanderbilt in 1885. By 1906, he moved the 24 room "White House" to the center of the farm. George Washington Vanderbilt's claim to fame is for building Biltmore in North Carolina. Biltmore is still today, the largest home in America. The "White House" was a periodic home to him until his death in 1914. Vanderbilt's heirs sold the property to the federal government in 1919. In January 1920, the Air Service Coast Defense Field at New Dorp was named Miller Field for Captain James E. Miller, the first U.S. aviator killed in action serving in World War I. Miller Field was completed in 1921. It had a concrete seaplane ramp, two grass runways, two landplane hangers, two seaplane hangers, troop and family housing, and three 85-foot radio masts.
In July 1920, the Army took commercial photographers to the skies to produce aerial photographs and film of the International Cup yacht races. The newspapers were informed and able to obtain images at the airfield. This demonstrated both a timely way to produce photographs and a practical use of airplanes to the public. In 1928, Admiral Byrd tested his new plane, a Ford Trimotor, the Floyd Bennett, at Miller Field. This plane was used for his first trip to Antartica in December 1928. Miller Field was the only Air Coast Defense Station on the U.S. East Coast of seven originally planned.
With the end of World War I, there was less of a need for an Air Station. While remaining an active airfield, Miller Field became a sub-post of Fort Wadsworth. The New York National Guard's 102nd Observation Squadron was the major air unit at the Field from 1923 to 1940. Civilian aircraft used the runway during these years as well. During World War II, seacoast guns and observation towers were constructed in addition to other military uses.
During the Cold War, Army aircraft -- including helicopters -- called Miller Field home. In the mid-1950s, Miller Field housed the 12th Antiaircraft Artillery (AAA) Battalion as well as the 1st Army Aircraft Field Maintenence Unit. The Maintenence Unit was mostly civilian employees servicing Nike missile defense installations in the New York area until 1960. In the 1960s, Green Beret units used the field as a training camp. This provided both housing and a reserve training area. Miller Field was deactivated by the U.S. Army in 1969 and it became the last grass runway in New York City. Later in 1972, it became part of the National Park Service's Gateway NRA.
A portion of airplane hangar 38 at Miller Field has been damaged beyond repair and must be demolished, but the remainder will stay, and the National Parks Service is hoping to find a recreational use for it. The National Park Service (NPS) signed a memorandum of agreement with the New York State Historic Preservation Office to partially deconstruct hangar 38 after Hurricane Sandy damaged a portion beyond repair. The NPS proposes to remove side-wing additions, the boiler room, chimney and all exterior coating from the hangar and to remove the asbestos roofing, leaving in place only the original structural steel frame and corrugated steel sheathing.
The “field” in Miller Field still applies, but no longer as an airfield. Today it is basically one large sports facility, with dozens of soccer, baseball, and softball fields. There’s even a cricket field. These are only available for organized league sports or for a one-day outing, such as a company picnic and softball game.
We here at Tom Crimmins Realty like to appreciate the beautiful history of the island we call home. If you have any questions concerning real estate, you can visit our website, or call us at 718-370-3200.