Can you imagine planes taking off and landing in East Dallas? If you can visualize two Lakewood homes and an airplane, you can. That’s about how it was when Lestere Miller operated the first flying school in Texas from 1914 to 1917 in East Dallas.
The young aviator and his students took off from the Texas School of Aviation, which was located at the east end of present-day Columbia Avenue behind what is now the Juliette Fowler Home. The pilots would fly above the cotton patch in an area known as Lakewood Heights.
The only requirement to take flight was “flying weather.”
The landmark of the Texas School of Aviation was a large frame building serving as a hangar and workshop for Miller and his mechanic, W.E. Virgil. Men and a few women traveled to this site from throughout Texas to take flying lessons.
Because aviation attire was not designed until World War I, students wore layers of clothing for warmth and protection. Caps were turned backwards, and the first layer of clothing was a regular suit and the last was a full-length coat. Women wore pants, which was unheard of in those days.
Miller and other avid aviators of the time made due with existing technology. Miller’s first flight was on an airplane that had a motorcycle engine, and he once built a plane that ran on an Emerson boat engine.
He made the first airmail flight in Texas from Dallas to Fort Worth Jan. 8, 1917. The flight began from the Trinity River bottom near Union Station and lasted 37 minutes. A newspaper headline from the time described the event as “Travels over a Mile a Minute.” A strong tailwind shortened the return flight by 16 minutes.
Sponsored by the Dallas Times Herald, the flight was the beginning of aviation history in Texas, a new era for the postal service and a part of East Dallas heritage recorded for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.
(Information for this article was obtained through the oral history cassette tape series located at Lakewood Public Library.)
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