Saturday, April 23, 2022

The Wright Brothers Visit to Aurora, IL 1910 4th of July Weekend

The Wright Brothers in Aurora!

Back in 1910, William Howard Taft was our 27th U.S. President, the "Fight of the Century" between Jack Johnson and James J. Jeffries was happening in Reno, Nevada (Jack Johnson won by TKO), and locally, the Sherer Building and the Fox Theater Building were opening. Also, the new concrete bridges were built and about to open.

"Aurora's New Bridges to be Dedicated Next Monday"
Beacon News July 2, 1910
"This view is taken from the upper story of the
Grand Army Memorial Hall on the island and is looking
East, showing the new bridge spanning the channel of the East
branch of the Fox. The bridge over the west channel, just
completed is an exact duplicate"

1910 Aurora, IL
RPPC Tracy Duran Collection

What else was going on in Aurora? Well, let's go back to the first week of July 1910. Many folks from all around visited Aurora to see the downtown decorated with flags and patriotic bunting. Along with this beautiful sight of patriotism for the 4th of July, people from all around came to the Aurora Driving Park, located where the Riddle Highlands subdivision is now off of Lake Street and Illinois Ave.

"Official Program" for the 4th of July weekend 1910

The star attraction at the Aurora Driving Park was the one and only (truly!) Wright Brothers "Aeroplane". They were to demonstrate the flying abilities of their invention for everyone to see. 

On Sunday July 3rd, there weren't any flying demonstrations, but folks could come up to see the Wright Brothers Aeroplane up close and see what it was all about. Thousands paid a 50-cent admission to see this new invention up close. 

Essentially the aeroplane consists of a high power (twenty-five horsepower) gasoline engine, two big muslin planes, a rudder and devices to direct the machine upward and downward. There is nothing embodied in its construction that is not of some very definite value and use.

Group with Wright Aeroplane
July 1910
Aurora Historical Society Photo

 By reason of its simplicity, the Wright machine, as it was being called, comes as near being a perfect piece of machinery of its kind during that time period. The planes are thirty-nine and a half feet in length, six and a half feet wide and are placed one above the other, six feet apart. The framework is made of selected spruce and the mechanisms are constructed of iron. The propellers are each eight and a half feet in length and are made of laminated spruce of the highest quality. 

Group at Aeroplane display at 
the Aurora Driving Park
July 1910

On July 4th, the Wright's pilots planned a full three-hour program. Yet, the high winds kept them from going up; to the great disappointment to the 7,000 who had paid admission to the park and the estimated 10,000 outside of the park. The following day, the Wright organization released a statement, " With a steady gale blowing all day yesterday until nine o'clock at night, it would have been absolutely foolhardy and dangerous to the public to attempt an airship flight. The Wrights did promise to "deliver the goods" with two more good flights in Aurora even if they had to stay here for a week to do it. Luckily, any folks that had tickets for the days that they were unable to do their demonstrations, they could come another day during the holiday weekend as a "rain check". 

Since this was the 4th of July holiday, there were already 20,000 visitors in the city that came from every town and city within a radius of fifty miles. Not including the 30,000 of Aurora locals. Can you imagine having that many people in the Aurora area at the same time? Let alone for a 4th of July celebration and parade? Especially for that time period. Goes to show that Aurora was THE place to go to. According to the Beacon News from this time, Police Chief Michels and his corps of patrolmen had taken charge of the large crowd with no issues or bad situations. Remember too, the Downtown area had trolley cars, horses, motorcycles and cars going all about. Later that night everyone crowded near the New York Street bridge and the surrounding area to see the $1,000 (estimated to be around $25,000 in 2022) display of fireworks that fired off of the bridge. 

Local Aurora Weather July 2, 1910
Aurora Beacon News

F.H. Russell, Wright Bros. Manager

Statement by F.H. Russel, Manager
Beacon News July 5 1910

On July 5th, stormy weather prevailed and prevented any flights until later in the day. In some articles it is noted that "Frederick Welsh" was completing the short flight. I was a bit confused at first with his name. I looked up Wright Brothers pilots and couldn't find his name but found two separate and notable aviators, Frederick H. Hennessy and Arthur L. Welsh, who were of significant renown at the time and I thought that their names might have been mistakenly combined in an era in which information might not have been so readily available. With all of the old newspapers that I research through, this does happen every now and then. So I had reached out to the Aurora Public Library to double check and come to find out, the article was correct. Frederick Welsh was an amateur pilot from Washington State. He grew up on a farm and wanted to go out and do exciting things. He found his way to the Wright Brothers and was able to help demonstrate their invention. This is why it is always best to check and double check and then triple check the information if you think the information might be incorrect. I would have been extremely incorrect with my first thought. Huge thanks to Christopher Biersdorf at the Aurora Public Library for his help! Unfortunately, I could not locate a photo of Frederick Welsh but found photos of the other two pilots to note for this article.

Arthur L. Welsh
Library of Congress Photo

Frederick H. Hennessy
Library of Congress Photo

Postcard Image from the
Aurora Historical Society
"Wright Bros sent for this film taken by
Chas Berkland. "He stood on a fence
 and trained his chasers" says Donor..
His Niece Marion Cross Thompson,
formerly of Aurora. Now from Tallahassee, Fla"
Wright Bros Flight July 2, 1910

Poster Advertising Auroras 4th of July Homecoming
Photo by Aurora Historical Society

So now, back to the story, on July 7th, the weather was finally cooperating for everyone. About 6,000 people came out to the Driving Park to witness this crazy contraption "fly". Little did they know that they were witnessing history being made. 

Orville Wright 1905
Orville Wright was here in Aurora with his team making sure that the pilot and the aeroplane were in tip top shape to make the demonstration. The pilot, Frederick Welsh, was able to reach an altitude of 512 feet and stayed airborne for an hour, which brought much amazement to the crowd.

Orville Wright and W.S. Brookins at the Aurora Driving Park
Beacon News July 2, 1910

Where was the Driving Park??

So you might be wondering, "Where was the Aurora Driving Park"? So glad you asked!

The Aurora Driving Park was located in the area near Illinois Ave. and along Lake Street going towards where Northgate is now. The subdivision "Riddle Highlands" is where the driving park used to be. 

Sanborn Map 1907
Aurora Driving Park
Aurora, IL

According to the Sanborn Map from 1907, the Aurora Driving Park was located near Illinois Avenue and Lake Street. I did a side-by-side analysis of the 1907 map and Google maps of today (2022). 

Here is the Google maps view of the current location (2022)
This is where the Aurora Driving Park used to be.
Where Orville Wright was present for the flight of the
Wright Brothers Aeroplane!

Here is the map of the area from the early 1900s to compare with the Google image above:

1900s map of the Aurora Driving Park area along with the streets and Lake St.
Aurora, IL
Photo from "The Aurora Story" book 1976 by Vernon Derry

Wright Brothers Air Ship Flying at Aurora, ILL
Aurora Driving Park barn
Photo by Aurora Historical Society

The Riddle Highlands Subdivision was plotted in 1922. Construction began and by 1930 approximately 50 homes had been built, most of these by the developer, Frank Riddle. Riddle Highlands was designated a local historic district in 1989. You might recognize the pillars at the entrance on Lake Street and Lawndale Ave. You'll also recognize the home to the northwest corner of Lake and Lawndale at the entrance of Riddle Highlands as the Al Capone house from my last post. 

Riddle Highlands Entrance

Frank Harrison Riddle (1888-1950) was a local realtor. He originally lived at 111 North Avenue in Aurora. He helped create the subdivision of Riddle Highlands where the Aurora Driving Park used to be located. One of the interesting things that I had found was that Frank Riddle and his family had moved into one of the first homes built in this subdivision. Where was it located? On the corner of Lawndale and Palace. What else was in this particular spot? The strip where the Wright Brothers Aeroplane had been displayed and flown! It makes me wonder if he knew that this was the spot that they were located at but it is an interesting coincidence. 
Frank Riddle Home
Corner of Lawndale and Palace
Aurora, IL

The corner of Lawndale Ave and Palace St
Riddle Highlands Subdivison
Aurora, IL
Also the site where the Wright Bros.
Aeroplane had been displayed!

I do hope you enjoyed this bit of local history! I always love finding stories of when very significant world history happens in our city. As they say, we may be the 2nd largest city in Illinois but we're still a "small town". 

Wright Brothers 1910

Wright Bros Flying off into the sunset
1910 Aurora, IL
Photo by Aurora Historical Society

**Note: information is from Aurora Historical Society, the Emma and Robert Wegman History Room at the Aurora Public Library and the Aurora history sites on Facebook.


  1. Hmmmm....that is from Jill Amoni ^, not anonymous!

  2. Thank you Jill! 😊 I've learned from the best!