Garfield County Airport Has Unusual Hangar

Allan Kent Powell and Miriam B. Murphy
History Blazer October 1995

In the realm of airplane hangar construction and design the Garfield County Airport Hangar is truly an oddity. Its barn-like construction of native materials is a testimony to the ranching/agricultural background of the men who built it. Having no previous experience in designing or building an airplane hangar, they built in the style they knew using materials they had. The soundness of this building bears witness to their excellence of craftsmanship and ingenuity of design. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Native ponderosa pine, still retaining much of the bark, was sawed at the nearby East Fork Sevier Sawmill for construction of the hangar. An intricate network of large timbers supports the gabled roof, and a half-timbered effect is achieved at the front gable by an angular placement of logs. The logs used for the hangar were cut as part of the CCC project to eradicate the black beetle in southern Utah. Infested trees were cut and sawed at the East Fork Sevier River sawmill by Garfield County men who hauled the logs by teams of horses to the construction site.

The hangar is a tribute to the early days of air travel in the United States. In the mid-1930s remote places such as Garfield County began to realize the benefits that could be derived from air service. Simultaneously, the U.S. government realized that a network of airport facilities was a necessity. The Garfield County Airport, also called the Bryce Canyon Airport, began as a county WPA project in 1936. Since the WPA provided only partial funding, the county called for local men to donate their labor. Design of the structure and construction supervision was handled by three county commissioners—Sam Pollock, Jennings Allen, and Walter Daley.

The airport reflects an attempt by local officials and private individuals to encourage tourism to Bryce Canyon, which was declared a National Park in 1928. It also reflects the hope that airmail service could reach one of the most remote parts of the country. The airport has also served as a recreational center for residents of Garfield County. Located roughly midway between Panguitch and Escalante, the hangar has been used for dances, celebrations, and other county activities since 1938.

A Garfield County News article on September 25, 1936 reported: “The project is being sponsored by Garfield County as a WPA project and will cost about $38,669.00. About 320 acres of land has been set aside for the airport, which will consist of an 80-foot by 80-foot hangar of log construction with metal roof and concrete floor and warming-up apron. Two runways, 5,000 feet long and 500 feet wide will be built. There will also be a waiting room with all the modern conveniences.” The project was enthusiastically pursued, especially after reports that Western Air Express would make the airport a regular stop between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. The importance of the airport to tourism was recognized by Mormon church leader George Albert Smith in a letter to County Commissioner Daley: “Being airminded and believing that an airport near Bryce Canyon would be of great advantage to your people, in that it would advertise the scenery of your section of the world and induce many people…to investigate…I feel it would be an excellent investment if it doesn’t cost too much.”

Despite delays due to a lack of workers and administrative technicalities, the project progressed and by the spring of 1938 was sufficiently complete to schedule the first landing during Air Mail Week. On Thursday, May 19, T. E. Garn, director of aeronautics for the state of Utah was scheduled to make a 15-minute stop at the airport to pick up all the airmail sent that day. The flight was to be a part of the Air Mail Week observance and an experiment to determine the need for an airmail route through the section. Local residents were encouraged to “send at least one letter to some friend or relative…as the amount of mail sent may have a great amount of effect on the determining of whether a regular route will be established through this section.” An elaborate reception was planned for the arrival of Garn’s plane: “It is expected that more than three hundred letters will be carried from Panguitch post office by the pick up airplane that will stop at Bryce Canyon Airport today, Thursday. A special program has been arranged and the fifteen minutes that the plane will rest on the new field will be taken up in musical numbers and talks. Residents from every part of the county are expected to be in attendance,” the local newspaper reported.

The elaborate plans for Garn’s arrival had to be postponed for two days because of bad weather, but his reception was insignificant compared to the three-day celebration staged to dedicate the airport on July 5, 6, and 7, in connection with the big wild west show and rodeo to be held at the “Y” service station. The official dedication took place on Wednesday, July 6, with short speeches, a dedicatory prayer, and musical numbers. Organizers planned to have at least three airplanes on the ground and performing over the field. Passengers were taken for rides over beautiful Bryce Canyon, and stunt flyers “cut didos,” taking dives and exhibiting other stunts in the clear mountain sky. Some of the best pilots in the state were expected to be on hand and take part in each day’s program. Dode Burch and Sons presented a wild west show each day. It included a contingent of Navajo Indians from the reservation to take part in the chicken pull, women’s races, and other contests. Fancy roping, bronco riding, and horse races by some of the best performers in the Southwest were scheduled. It was a fitting tribute to the efforts of Garfield County officials and residents to bring air service to Utah’s scenic plateau country.

Source: National Register nomination form in Preservation Office, Utah Division of State History, Salt Lake City.