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Town of Niagara History: Airport, airbase important to town

by jmaloni
Fri, Jun 22nd 2012 05:00 pm

In 1928, the City of Niagara Falls invested $70,000 to establish the Niagara Falls International Airport. Its 150 acres was used for private, single-engine planes.

During World War II, the U.S. Army Air Forces assumed control of the airport and upgraded its facilities to be used as an Army Air Force base. After the war, the Air Force, Air National Guard and Navy used the runways.

The airport has been used for freight, charter flights and periodic commercial flights and is the alternate landing facility for flights at the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has owned it since 1970.

When the runway was expanded for the Air Force, Tuscarora Road was closed between Porter and Lockport roads. The homes in this area were relocated to Lockport Road. Mary Beck's Forty Acres Restaurant building was moved to Military Road and became Swiezy's Grove. It was sold and renamed John's Flaming Hearth. The restaurant was closed in February 2006 with the NFTA initially planning to use the site as a bus terminal. This plan was shelved leaving the old building half torn down in disarray. John's Flaming Hearth reopened December 2006 on the west side of Military Road in front of the Prime Outlets Mall.

The airport area is also the former home to the 865th U.S. Army Reserve Combat Support Hospital, which is now located on the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. It was formed March 15, 1972, as 365th Evacuation Hospital for the Army Reserves. They were activated into active military service Nov. 21, 1990, and remained as such until March 25, 1991, when they returned to reserve status. The outfit was reorganized Sept. 17, 1993, as the 865th General Hospital. In addition, 277th U.S. Army Reserve Quartermaster Corps uses the airport providing petroleum delivery and support for the military.

The Niagara Falls Air Force Base was opened in 1952. The Naval Base opened in 1956 with the 914th Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, opening in 1971. The base now is home to the 914th; the 107th Airlift Wing, New York Air National Guard; the 277th Quartermaster Company; Buffalo Military Entrance Processing Station; the 2nd Squadron 101st Cavalry; the 865th Combat Surgical Hospital and the 1982nd Forward Surgical Team.

The airbase and the airport share New York State's longest runway at 9,825 feet. The base housing was called Falcon Manor and was utilized in the relocation of Love Canal residents. Today, it is a private housing complex called Wildwood Acres.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) suggested closing the base both in 1995 and 2005. This prompted the creation of the Niagara Military Affairs Council (NIMAC) whose mission is to support the air base and prevent its closing. Due to overwhelming public support and the base's continued involvement with providing tactical air delivery, intra-theater airlift and aeromedical evacuation, BRAC removed Niagara Falls from its list of closures in October 2005. In its current status, this military installation remains one of Niagara County's largest employers.

The Town of Niagara has undergone many changes. Niagara Falls, after becoming a city, annexed two of its villages, taking up much of the acreage. The town's primary employer has been threatened by closure three times. Still, the Town of Niagara perseveres. Ever growing and adapting to differences in daily life over the past two centuries, its residents are a hardy bunch awaiting the next set of challenges.

This historical note is reprinted by permission of the Niagara County Historical Society. Research was done by Town Historian Dorothy Rolling.

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