July 1992

Home Index Museums Blog Authors Site Map About


The Curtiss Museum Moves to New Location

On July 4 the Curtiss Museum is opening in its new location on Highway 54, close to Hammondsport, and about midway between the Pleasant Valley fields where Glenn Curtiss made his early flights from land, and the southern end of Keuka Lake where he made his early flights from water.

The Museum is moving into a building with 1.3 acres of floor area—adequate to display its 8 full-sized airplanes and large collection of aviation engines. Now all of the planes can have their wings attached and some of them be suspended for realistic display.

Moving the airplanes and other bulky items of the aeronautics collection—40 engines, 125 propellers—has been a logistical feat. The entire collection of the Museum, which covers the period from 1870 to 1930, includes in addition to the aviation collection, motorcycles, a ladder wagon from the Hammondsport Hook & Ladder Company, an Orient Buckboard, century-ago farm and vineyard equipment, tools enough for a woodworking shop, and many household furnishings—altogether around 60,000 items. Many of these are archives of Glenn Curtiss, his family, and his enterprises. To keep track of all of the small articles, members of the Museum staff and volunteers packed them into boxes that were color coded with shelves in the new Museum storage room.

The move of all these items has been orchestrated by the Museum curator, Lindsley Dunn. He has been responsible for packing and keeping track of the articles on their short trip from the building at the corner of Main and Lake Streets in Hammondsport to their new residence along New York Route 54 one half mile south of the junction with 54A. While the collections were being packed for the move each article was listed and then entered into a computer data base. Fifteen volunteers have been checking the items against existing records.

The whole town has been watching the Mercury Aircraft trucks being loaded from the front of the old schoolhouse, and then driven away to the former wine warehouse. This building has climate control and a sprinkler system with a 200,000 gallon water tank. Both these features make it very well suited for museum use.

Patricia Dann became director of the Curtiss Museum on April 1. She has been working tirelessly organizing volunteers to accomplish the move to new quarters and to set up exhibits. There are now 75 active volunteers working as guides and in the gift shop, helping with the collections and exhibits, planning special events and a bimonthly newsletter.

The Curtiss Museum has about 500 members who are spread across the United States. Many are airplane and motorcycle buffs. The Museum hosts meetings of the Curtiss Wing of the OX-5 Aviation Pioneers as well as a yearly motorcycle meet, the Norton Owner's Association Rally. Glenn Curtiss built and raced motorcycles before he built and flew airplanes.

The Museum has four motorcycles of the 1904 to 1912 period that are typical of those that Curtiss built to sell and to race. He built a large motorcycle in 1907 with a V-8 engine, and with it established a world's land speed record of 136.36 m.p.h. This machine will again be on display at the new Museum building, on loan from the National Air & Space Museum.

Curtiss used his motorcycle-engine-building skills to power dirigibles, then airplanes. He developed the famous OX-5 engine that was built at his plant in Hammondsport just before World War I. The engine was used to power various early aircraft. In addition to several of these engines, the Museum has many aircraft power plants on display. There are simple single-cylinder engines, even a crudely made prototype cam engine, a rotary, and a cutaway radial, so you can see the internal parts.

Glenn Curtiss was an innovator who was able to make visionary ideas come true. He started out with a bicycle shop in Hammondsport and was soon building improved bikes for sale. Then he moved to motorcycles, certainly a practical idea for the hilly roads around Hammondsport, and then went on to flying machines. His first flying engine went on the California Arrow, a lighter-than-air craft.

His first heavier-than-air planes took off from ground, the fields of Pleasant Valley, and landed again on the ground. Next he built and flew planes that would take off from the water, the surface of Lake Keuka, and return to the water on floats. These he called hydroaeroplanes. With added wheels that could be lowered for a ground landing or raised for a water landing, he developed the first amphibian. He went on to build larger flying boats. Curtiss even rebuilt the failed 'Langely Aerodrome' machine and flew it.

The unique and loner personality of Glenn Curtiss is shown not only by his inventions and exploits, but is revealed also by the cupola room he had built on the top of his Hammondsport house in 1911. From this room he could look out over the whole village of Hammondsport. It was his place to dream about his ideas. He called it the "Thinkorium." This room is now in the exhibition hall with one side removed so visitors can better see what it might have been like when Curtiss retreated there to think.

CLR Blog | Site Map | Contact CLR