Thursday, July 3, 2014

Adams, Kansas - Clyde Cessna's hometown in Kingman County

Europa and Clyde Cessna, December 7, 1941. Photo courtesy Kingman Co. Economic Development

On a trip to a wheat field near Anthony, I stumbled across the Kingman County town of Adams. It's the hometown of famed aviation manufacturer Clyde Cessna.

Here's a link to some information the old Cessna home, which still stands near Adams.

A boy named Clyde

Early aviation in Kansas began with a farmboy named Clyde who grew up near the little town of Adams.

In 1881, James and Mary Cessna and their two boys, Roy, 4, and Clyde, 2, settled in Canton Township near Adams and constructed a sod home.

In 1904, Clyde bought 40 acres north of his parents homestead. In June 1905, he and Europa Dotzour, a school teacher, were married. In 1907, they bought their first "horseless carriage, which gave him interest in automobiles. The family moved to Enid, Okla, to manage an auto company, the Overland Agency.

Not long after moving, Clyde became interested in flight after seeing an exhibition at Oklahoma City. He traveled to New York to see how "those Eastern fellows were putting flying machines together." Through trial and error and many crashes later, Cessna made his first successful flight in late 1911. While living in Oklahoma, he found profit in flying in exhibitions, as many people would pay to see an airplane.

Cessna, however, knew that the days of exhibition flying were numbered. He wanted not only to fly but also to build and sell airplanes in an effort to make aviation a profitable and respectable enterprise, according to an article by Edward H. Phillips is an aviation researcher and author. Following his successful tour of Kansas, Cessna returned to Oklahoma in November 1913 and made a number of flights there. In late December he moved his family, equipment and two airplanes back to his 40-acre farm near Adams.

He continued designing, developing and flying exhibitions, including the Kansas State Fair. In July 1916, he crashed near Adams, damaging the aircraft and injuring himself, but three weeks later he was back in the air flying, according to Phillips.

In 1917, the Jones Auto Co. offered him space to build planes in Wichita, according to the Kingman County history book. With the help of his brother Roy and another brother, Noel, Clyde set up a plane manufacturing shop. It would be the beginning of aircraft manufacturing in the city to be know as the Air Capitol of the World.

But as American entered World War I, interest in Clyde's airplane manufacturing, as well as a flight school he offered, waned, and he and his brothers returned to Adams to farm and help in the war effort, writes Phillips. However, in the mid-1920s, according to the Kansas State Historical Society, Walter Beach and Lloyd Stearman offered Cessna a partnership in the Wichita Travel Air Co. However, a disagreement over monoplane versus biplane design eventually caused Cessna to leave and form his own company.

He was forced to close his business' doors on a Friday in 1931 during the Great Depression, according to a story in The News. The economy had crashed, no one was purchasing airplanes and the company couldn't pay employees. So the stockholders decided to close its doors for several years.

"Clyde was upset with stockholders for closing the door; he didn't see that was the way to go," granddaughter Janice Cessna Clark , of Reno, Nev. told the News in. "So on Monday morning, Clyde, and his son Eldon, opened Cessna Aeroplane Company with the purpose of repairing and servicing planes and to build gliders."

After closing the plant in 1931, it reopened again three years later. And several years after that, he sold his shares to two nephews and returned to Adams to farm.
From the Kansas Sampler Foundation
Cessna died at his home near Adams on Nov. 20, 1954 and is buried just north of the town in the Greenfield Cemetery at Belmont. 
While Cessna is known as an early airplane manufacturer, Clark remembers a grandfather working hard in the scorching Kansas heat to bring in the wheat each June at the family farm near Adams. The town of Rago, also claims the manufacturer, although he lived closer to Adams.

"He was devoted to his farming," Clark said in 2011 of her grandfather who only had a fifth-grade education but was in tune with the technology of his day. "He was a mechanical person; he ran a saw mill and dug ponds. When I knew him he was inventing a mechanical pitchfork. He had an extraordinary ability to translate ideas into mechanical inventions."

Located just a few miles west of Adams, the white, two-story Cessna home still stands, although it is on private property, said Bonita Bradley, who lives in Adams.