Birth of the Block Island Soundtrack: 1950 and the Opening of the Block Island State Airport

Fri, 09/23/2022 - 4:30pm

I was seven when I first saw the ocean. It was 1982, and growing up in western Iowa, the smell at Point Judith surprised me more than the vista of the open ocean. This was to be a day of firsts and other surprises. My first
ferry ride ever, on the Quonset, I learned that an orange soda and a hot dog, when combined with a rolling sea, yielded another surprise, that of mild seasickness. Once docking at Old Harbor, in comparison to the cornfields of Iowa, it seemed I was in the realm of the internal combustion engine. For, on the streets of Old Harbor adults rode an array of brightly colored contraptions that looked like a bike because it had pedals but had a small engine. I learned these were called mopeds. In addition, the sky was full of the roar of small aircraft engines. While I was used to small aircraft buzzing low over the Iowa skies as a result of crop dusters spraying corn fields
with the gusto of Chuck Yeager, I had never seen, or better stated heard, what has been referred to as the Soundtrack of Block Island.
As soon as the airport was dedicated on a summer day in 1950, which placed Block Island within a two-hour flight of New York, Boston and Washington, D.C., nothing would be the same. While aircraft had been landing
and taking off from Block Island pastures for decades, this paved state constructed runway was a game-changer. Visitors who had journeyed to the island before the war, which had required a range of logistics including
factoring in an ever-evolving ferry schedule depending on the time of year, now could arrive on the island in just two hours. One 1953 newspaper article commented on improved accessibility with, “There is a lot of empty land on Block Island, much of it picturesque and now within brief flying time of eastern urban centers.” Suddenly the prospect of a summer cottage on Block Island did not seem so remote. Irony soon followed. While new landowners sought the peace and quiet of life on Block Island, the slower pace of construction as opposed to what was taking place in “America” challenged their expectations. In response, some new summer residents flew
in construction workers. In the early winter of 1957, one Connecticut builder, wanting his new six-room ranch house completed in June, flew over five carpenters. Another New Jersey couple completing a remodel of a historic
structure flew in stone masons. Incremental metamorphosis resulting from postwar expectations had commenced on Block Island.
We at the Historical Society wish to congratulate Bethany, and her entire staff over three decades, for thirty amazing years in business at Bethany’s Airport Diner. Your breakfast burritos, which are the best this side of Tucson, will be missed almost as much as you and the location simply known in this community as “the diner.” Thank you and best of luck in your next chapter.