Marr Field Preceded Lovell Field as Chattanooga's Airport

Named for Walter L. Marr - Bicycle, Airplane, and Automotive Engineer

Monday, July 20, 2009 - by Harmon Jolley
Marr Field was located in East Chattanooga.  Click to enlarge.
Marr Field was located in East Chattanooga. Click to enlarge.

Many cities can trace their growth through the history of their airports. Atlanta’s massive Hartsfield-Jackson Airport dates to 1925, when the lease for Candler Field was signed for property that had been an automobile race track. Huntsville International Airport ‘s predecessor is now the site of Joe Davis Stadium, where the Huntsville Stars compete against the Chattanooga Lookouts and other Southern League baseball teams. Knoxville’s first regularly scheduled flights took off from its Downtown Island Airport beginning in 1936.

Chattanooga’s airline passengers are familiar with the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, known as Lovell Field for many years. Like other cities, Chattanooga relocated its airport in order to accommodate growth. The former location for air travel in Chattanooga was Marr Field, located between the railroad and Dodson Avenue north of Glass Street in East Chattanooga.

Marr Field was an endeavor of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce in the late 1910’s. The aviation landing field committee of the COC secured leases on the property in 1919.

For his work on the project, Walter L. Marr was honored by having the field named for him. Marr was an innovative engineer of the fledgling automobile industry in Michigan. He eventually left behind his twenty-two hour workdays for the serenity of a residence on Signal Mountain, but continued to be involved in various civic and business projects. See http://www.chattanoogan.com/articles/article_136907.asp for a biography of Walter L. Marr.

The Hamilton County Road Department helped to clear the land for Marr Field. Walter Marr himself operated one of the county tractors. The site was pronounced ready in the November 23, 1919 Chattanooga Times. The article also reported that the first planes to use Marr Field would arrive on November 24, 1919 from Canton, Ohio.

Marr Field had yet to be dedicated, but Thanksgiving Day, 1919 was celebrated with morning and afternoon passenger flights at a charge of $15. Stunt pilot Eddie Stinson, who earned $100,000 annually through his craft, was in Chattanooga for the opening. V. Price Hollingsworth also took passengers aloft. Stinson delivered twenty-five copies of the Chattanooga Times to Cleveland, Tennessee on December 1, 1919 in his biplane.

Inclement weather delayed the dedication of Marr Field until December 5, 1919. Col. W.L. Dargue, in charge of Army aviation for the Southeast, was a guest of honor who landed on the field with John Lovell, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, as a passenger. More passenger flights and aeronautical stunts were performed in the afternoon. That evening, at a dinner held at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club, Col. Dargue praised Marr Field as being the leading facility in the South. He also predicted that aerial travel would move from novelty to routine status.

The 1920 Chattanooga city directory listed Marr Aviation Field as being near the Glass Street extension in East Chattanooga. There was also a listing under Aviation for Southern Flying, with headquarters in the Times Building (now known as the Dome Building).

A famous visitor – Charles A. Lindbergh – landed at Marr Field on October 5, 1927 in his Spirit of St. Louis.

The name of Marr Field was tarnished by multiple airplane crashes, some fatal. The combination of primitive equipment and the airport’s location – wedged between the railroad and Missionary Ridge – were recipes for tragedy. On March 20, 1927 an airplane plunged one hundred fifty feet to the ground as a large crowd watched. An air mail plane operated by Interstate Airlines crashed on December 23, 1928 and killed four men. This incident led to numerous statements made by officials, investigations, and remedies over the next two years.

Until improvements could be made at Marr Field, passenger service was suspended immediately following the Interstate Airlines crash. eacon lights, necessary for night flying, were ordered. Air mail was continued, but the government mandated that the routes of planes be changed to keep them within fifteen miles of a suitable landing site.

The January 25, 1928 Chattanooga Times reported that a new training plane and pilot instruction courses were being brought to Marr Field. The airport itself received improvements, including the spelling of “Chattanooga” in large letters made of crushed stone. A long-distance radio receiver was installed in the hangars so that weather bulletins could be received.

The improvements at Marr Field didn’t impress everyone. L.H. Adkinson, an aviator and representative of the Texas Pacific oil company, vented his feelings that Marr was the “world’s worst” to a Times reporter for a January 18, 1929 article. Adkinson could not land at Marr Field due to fog, and was rerouted to a very muddy Brainerd Field, west of the Brainerd Golf Course. He said, “Marr Field is not an airport. It is more like a cow lot and the hangars look like cowsheds. Neither of their airports, Marr Field nor Brainerd, are fit to land a $20,000 plane and I am certainly sorry I stopped.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Bass and other city leaders were in search of a new site. Bonds totaling $250,000 had already been authorized by a vote on November 6, 1927. The Chattanooga Times reported on April 24, 1929 that the new airport would be named Lovell Field in honor of John Lovell. The site was the farm of Dr. J.B. Haskins along South Chickamauga Creek at Chickamauga, Tennessee. The city purchased the property for $29,000.

In 1930, a three-story concrete terminal was completed, along with hangars and a gas station, at Lovell Field. Beacons, both atop the First National Bank downtown and at Lovell, guided pilots into Chattanooga. Lovell Field’s address changed to Shepherd, Tennessee by the 1940 directory.

Marr Field operated for a short while, but was no longer listed by the time of the 1935 city directory. That same year, Walter L. Marr was listed as president of the Aero Toy Works.

If you have additional information on Marr Field or the individuals named in this article, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

Charles A. Lindbergh at Marr Field.  Click to enlarge.
Charles A. Lindbergh at Marr Field. Click to enlarge.

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