MERIDEN — For the first few decades of its existence, Meriden Municipal Airport was synonymous with Ernest Markham, the airport’s founding manager.
“There could be no history of the Meriden Airport without Ernest Markham,” the Connecticut Aviation Newsletter wrote in 1958, commemorating his 30 years with the airport.
In 1962, the Meriden Aviation Commission voted to rename the airport to “Meriden-Markham Airport,” in honor of the man who gave 32 years of service to its success.
Dr. Charles Forster, chairman of the commission at the time of the vote, told the Record-Journal that when the Meriden Airport was founded in 1928, Markham was the manager, mechanic, and sole pilot.
“In fact, he was the airport,” Forster told the Record-Journal at the time.
As part of the Meriden Aircraft Corp., which ran the airport for the city, Markham oversaw the expansion of the facility to 130 cleared acres, as well as the construction of several hangers, a repair shop, machine shop, classrooms and business offices.
On July 14, 1962, family and friends, including some industry notables, gathered at the airport for a dedication ceremony. Among those in attendance was Clarence Chamberlin, an “Aviation Pioneer” who was one of the first to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean, according to the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
Markham, a Portland native, started flying when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1919, at the age of 17. A year after enlisting he was picked to go to Pensacola Flight School, where he graduated in 1921 with the grade of chief petty officer, the Record-Journal reported. He remained in the Naval Air Corps for the next six years, flying in the scouting squadron of the Atlantic fleet.
While in the Navy, Markham delivered a planeload of Sunday papers, films and magazines to President Calvin Coolidge and his guests on the presidential yacht while it was cruising on the Potomac River.
After leaving the military, Mark-ham became manager of Bethany Airport, one of the earliest air fields established in Connecticut.
Only seven months later, in 1928, he transferred to the newly established Meriden Airport, where he served as field manager and chief pilot. He was with the airport for 32 years before retiring in January 1961. He died in 1965.
During his tenure, Markham was instrumental in organizing the Connecticut wing of the Civil Air Patrol, or CAP, a division of the U.S. Army Air Force, in 1942. He was named temporary commander and operations officer for CAP Base No. 20, at Bar Harbor in Maine, when the CAP offered its services during World War II.
In the Connecticut Civil Air Patrol’s newsletter, Wing Dope, Markham was recognized for 25 years of service.
“Few men in Connecticut have made greater work-a-day contributions to aviation in general and to the Civil Air Patrol in particular, than has Maj. Ernest L. Markham,” the article read.
“We might go on listing many improvements that have come as a result of Maj. Markham’s interest and enthusiasm for aviation and his Meriden Airport operation but suppose we just say the Meriden Airport rates as one of the best small fields in Connecticut.”