If you have heard “but where’s the airport?” while traveling to or from Philadelphia…; or more recently, “Where’s the circle?”
There once was an airport there… the main airport serving the Delaware Valley, as a matter of fact! There was a circle as well, though it’s not as obvious when looking at it today.
The question of having a commercial airport in Camden arose in the 1920s. With the main postal facility in the area being at 9th and Market in Philadelphia, and the desirability of being close to Center City Philadelphia and the booming City of Camden quite evident, the question then became where an airport could be located that would be safe for takeoff and landing, as well as being reasonably accessible to the travelers arriving and departing by air. It was determined that the Pennsauken township location that became Central Airport filled the bill perfectly.
Philadelphia built a facility in the south of the city, but it failed to be a commercial success due to the distance from the city’s downtown as well as being far from any other travel connections. Camden, being close to heart of Philadelphia not only by ferry, but by the massive new suspension bridge then under construction, next attracted the attention of developers intent on developing a facility to take advantage of the new technology.
Initial locations proposed included the Harrison Avenue garbage dump along the Delaware River in Cramer Hill, and what was then called the Moro Phillips tract, named after the famous 19th-century industrialist who had owned it, bounded by the north bank of the Cooper River, River Road, and State Street. Both of these sites were deemed unsafe due to the presence of smoke stacks from nearby factories and industrial sites. One must visualize in the context of the early 1920s… the planes were smaller and flew at lower altitudes than today, and those factories were burning coal….. they called them smokestacks for a reason.
A solution presented itself with the building of the Delaware River Bridge, and the construction of a new highway along the north bank of the Cooper River from the Federal Street Bridge to Pennsauken, where it would link to what was then known as State Highway 25, Crescent Boulevard, the Marlton Pike, and Kaighn Avenue. This highway enabled residents of the relatively new suburban towns along the White Horse Pike to drive straight into Philadelphia while avoiding traffic in Camden, and began the development of the previously underdeveloped Delaware Township. A new invention, the traffic circle, was set up at the intersection of Crescent Boulevard, Kaighn Avenue, a short connecting road to the previously existing Marlton Pike, and the new road, which in time became known as The Admiral Wilson Boulevard, in honor of Camden native son and World War I hero Henry Braid Wilson Jr.
A piece of undeveloped ground along the north bank of the Cooper River, east of Crescent Boulevard and South of Marlton Pike, attracted the interest of those desiring an airport’s construction. Joseph H. Fisher had once operated a farm on this land. Level ground, close to everything by the other great new invention of the time, the automobile, and with nary a smokestack close to the site… in fact, there were few three story buildings within a 1.5 mile radius…. the site was chosen for the next jewel to Camden’s crown… the Central Airport. Needless to say, the new traffic circle quickly became known as the Airport Circle.
Once opened for operations in September of 1929, Central Airport would be the prime air connection between the Philadelphia metropolitan area and the world for about twelve years. However, by 1938 the end was in sight. The development of larger airplanes such as the Douglas DC-3 meant the need for takeoff and landing strips longer than those at Central Airport, and the construction of the much larger Philadelphia International Airport doomed the field. Once the Philadelphia Airport opened in June of 1940, the four airlines then serving Philadelphia through Central Airport (American, Eastern, TWA, and United) left the Pennsauken facility behind, terminating their operations at the then obsolete field.
In it’s heyday, Central Airport saw the comings and goings of the famous, and in some cases the would-be notorious. Airmail would arrive at Central Airport, and be transported by autogyro, a precursor of the modern helicopter, to the roof of the United States Postal Office at 9th and Market Streets in Philadelphia. In the 1940s, Central Airport served as a training facility for naval and marine aviators, who learned takeoff and landing skills in yellow Stearman N2S-3 bi-planes. In an early attempt to legalize gambling in New Jersey, a dog track operated nearby in 1934, a swimming pool operated several years, and there was an outdoor arena that featured professional and amateur boxing matches in the mid- and late-1930s.
Most notable among the businesses that appeared around the airport were two nightclubs which are well remembered long after they were gone. Weber’s hof Brau was located on the northbound side of Crescent Boulevard adjacent to the airport. With food, dancing, and entertainment, Weber’s hof Brau was a popular nightspot until it was destroyed by fire in 1951. On the opposite side of the Airport Circle was Camden native son Neil Deighan‘s spot. Simply called Neil Deighan’s, the club was briefly known as Cub Shaguire before being renamed The Pub, under which name it has operated under since the early 1950s. The Airport also lent its name to the Airport Pontiac car dealership, and the Airport Rug and Carpet Company.
After World War II, usage of the airport declined to the point where it was no longer viable. Camden Central Airport was still depicted as an active airfield on the 1955 Washington Sectional Chart, which described it as having three runways, with the longest being a 2,800′ asphalt strip. However, the field was apparently on its last legs, as it was described as “unattended.” Camden Central Airport was apparently closed at some point between 1955-57, as it was not depicted at all on the July 1957 NY Sectional Chart, and it was labeled “Abandoned Airport” on the 1961 Philadelphia Local Aeronautical Chart. The property was sold, and was redeveloped as an industrial park. Roads running through the park such as Central Highway and Airport Highway, give clue to its heritage.
The map below shows the approximate location of the airport.
Hover or click on marker for additional details
If you or I had a nickel for every time someone said or thought “but where’s the airport?” while traveling to or from Philadelphia, one of us would certainly have a boxcar or three worth of nickels! Yes Virginia, there once was an airport there…; the main airport serving the Delaware Valley, as a matter…
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