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The Day Eleanor Roosevelt’s Seaplane Stopped Here for Gas.

The Day Eleanor Roosevelt’s Seaplane Stopped Here for Gas.

Several weeks ago I dropped by the Germantown History Department in search of some images depicting old views around town.  Richard Coons, a volunteer there obligingly showed me some.  Among them was a picture taken in 1939 of Eleanor Roosevelt on a floating dock off of the Half Moon and Anchorage Recreation Center.  Since much of her youth was spent at her Grandmother’s home on Woods Road, it was not particularly surprising to me that she would make a public appearance in Germantown a few decades later.  What I did find unusual was what appeared in the background of the shot.  Off the end of the dock, floating near a canoe was a seaplane.all photos (except the last) courtesy of the Germantown History DepartmentBeing First Lady at the time, ER’s arrival by seaplane did not seem out of the question either.  It was then that one of the members of the History mentioned that the Anchorage was in fact, a designated seaplane fueling station during that era. 

What?

That’s right.  

Long before Germantown was known for its collection of gas station/ mini-marts clustered around the light at the intersection of 9G and Main Street, we had a service station for seaplanes down on the river.  If there was anything to strike one as being more incongruous than Hudson’s one-time role as a whaling center, that might be it!  My curiosity piqued, I asked the people at the History Department if there was any more information available on the fueling station.  How it did it come to be built in Germantown, and why?  Other than the fact that it was connected to the group of men who purchased the former steamship dock and warehouse in North Germantown and converted it into the recreation center, no one seemed to be certain.

The center's previous incarnation as a steamship dock A valiant search through their files for documents or articles relating to the building or Mrs. Roosevelt’s visit was fruitless.   I planned to try the archives of the Hudson Register Star or Albany Times Union, to see if there were any records referring to it in either of those places.   Luckily, I didn’t have to look that far.  I was able to discover a little more information from Eleanor Roosevelt herself online, thanks toGeorge Washington University, which hosts a digital archive of her popular syndicated column “My Day”.  A quick search of “Germantown” there yielded not only an account of her stop in town that day, but also shed a great deal of light on the reasons behind the seaplane fueling station.

Back then, as today, there were relatively few seaplanes in common use.  However ER pointed out while expensive to buy, the cost of operating one was only 2 cents per mile, cheaper than a car and much faster.  She goes on to write of the pleasant experience she had flying over the waterways, and ventured it had the potential to become a widespread mode of travel in the future.  One of the major impediments was the relative scarcity of refueling locations.  That’s where the forward-thinking owners of the recreation center came into the picture.  Working with the NWA, (one of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs which provided work for the nation’s youth), they had floating docks sporting large yellow triangles constructed.  A pilot flying overhead could easily spot them, know this was a place where he could touch down, refuel and be on his way.  Mrs. Roosevelt’s plane, enroute from Poughkeepsie to Albany, made an official stop at the Anchorage to refuel while Eleanor greeted the assembled throngs and had her picture taken with some of the “NWA Boys”, as she called them.Crowds at the Anchorage the day ER came to town

Today we know the seaplane did not, in fact become a popular alternative to car travel.  Like Hudson’s whaling industry, Germantown’s role as an officially designated seaplane-refueling stop was short-lived.   The Half Moon Center eventually closed, and was later razed, a boat launch marking the spot where it once stood today. The only elements of this once bustling spot that remain are the railroad grade crossing and the spectacular view to the west.The Anchorage thenThe Anchorage Today Though Germantown’s residents certainly appreciate the Anchorage’s sleepy character today, it’s fun to think about what might have been.   Would the skies over Germantown be full of planes traveling north and south, touching down here for fuel on the way to their final destinations?  Would an Xtramart or Stewarts franchise have opened down at the Anchorage, allowing commuters the opportunity to buy lotto tickets or incredibly cheap sundaes while their planes were being gassed?  Would Olana and Scenic Hudson lobby to have the route changed to protect the viewshed? Would the constant drone of planes flying overhead on this aerial New York State Thruway annoy people?  Or would they even notice?  We can only imagine.

To read Eleanor Roosevelt's article about that day, you can click here.

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