History of the James Clements Airport

Drive along M-13 between Bay City and Saginaw and you can’t miss the James Clements Municipal Airport.

TheClass B General Aviation airport is owned by the City of Bay City. One of the most notable structures at the airport is the Neo-Georgian Administration building designed by local architect Joseph Goddeyne — best known for the Bay County Building. Since 1982, the Administration Building has been on the National Register of Historic Places.

The airport’s main hanger was constructed in 1928. The Administration building followed in 1930.

At the time, local leaders wanted to take advantage of the economic benefits of having a local airport and to honor those from Bay City who lost their lives in World War I. A local Aeronautics Committee sought the financial backing of local industrialist William Clements. Clements agreed to donate land and invest $10,000 investment in the project.

Hanging in the Administration Building is a photo of Henry Dora, the first airport manager, at the controls of DeRemer’s Wright B Pusher.In exchange, he asked that the airport be named after his son, Ensign James Renville Clements, who died of influenza in 1918 in France. James was a sea plane pilot during World War I with the U.S. Naval Reserve Force. A portrait of him can be seen hanging inside the Administration Building.

Dating back to 1905, the site was used as an airfield with grass landings until cemented runways were added.

Over the years this airport has played quite a role in local and national history.

  • In 1912, the 15th aircraft built by Wilbur and Orville Wright took off from this field piloted by Lionel H. DeRemer, making him Bay County’s first pilot.
  • During the 1930s, the Land-O-Lakes Airline offered passenger flights between Detroit, Bay City, and St. Ignace
  • Also during the 1930s, the airport was utilized for two weeks by the First Pursuit Group from what was then the Selfridge Air Base (current day Selfridge Air National Guard Base). The officers and enlisted men would fly simulated attack runs over the industrial areas of Flint for practice.
  • During World War II, the airport served as a training field for the Civilian Pilot Training Program, which gave pilots the necessary flight training before heading off to the military.

James Clements Airport, located on the banks of the Saginaw River, is unique within Michigan as it is one of two airports in the state that has water runways for seaplanes. The other is in Sault St. Marie.

The airport also serves as a fuel stop for airplanes coming from the East Coast on their way to the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in OshKosh, Wisc.

Click here to learn more about the airport today.


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