The Benton County Historical Society goes above the clouds for its newest display, "Up, Up and Away."

The yearlong exhibition is dedicated to the history of flight through the 20th century, showing a collection of artifacts and stories about the evolution of the airplane. It highlights everything from commercial and wartime flight to hot air balloons and space travel, including how the mid-valley has contributed to its history since the beginning.

Curator Mark Tolonen said all of the artifacts are from the Benton County Historical Society's collection. Some were formerly at the Horner Museum at Oregon State University.

The exhibition displays are in chronological order, beginning with the Wright Brothers.

"Basically, we have a local connection to the Wright brothers," Tolonen said.

Wilbur and Orville Wright's father, Bishop Milton Wright, visited Benton County in 1856 as a missionary.

"He was part of the church that founded Philomath and the college building [which now hosts the Historical Society]. His whole life he had correspondence with his friends in Philomath, and we have some of the correspondence here." Tolonen said.

This includes a letter Wright wrote in 1904 to a Philomath resident and former student about his inseparable sons and their early flight trials.

"It's a little bit of a stretch, but still local," Tolonen said.

Inspired by the Wright Brothers, local resident George Hess (1911) built his own biplane in South Corvallis, though there is no record that the plane ever flew.

The exhibit moves from the early stages of flight to scrapbooks and photographs taken by Eck Rorick, a native of The Dalles. In 1918-19, during his biplane flights in World War I, Rorick captured many pictures from above. A large propeller from the plane is prominently displayed.

Another local connection to flight was British WWI pilot Fred Merryfield, whose plane was shot down during the war. After being discharged in 1919, he earned a bachelor's degree in engineering at Oregon State University, where he eventually taught from 1927 to 1966. Merryfield and colleagues formed the consulting firm CH2M Hill in 1946.

Martha Fraundorf, a volunteer who assisted in doing research for the exhibit, said some visitors to the museum are interested in the history of local airports in Corvallis.

"One of the things I found fascinating is Corvallis used to have an airport called the Grant Avenue Airport between Grant and Circle [Boulevard]. It's kind of where Linus Paulding Middle School is," Fraundorf said.

In 1929, area Boy Scouts painted a large "Corvallis" sign and an arrow atop the roof of Oregon State 's McAlexander Fieldhouse to direct people to the airport, Fraundorf said.

The airport closed in 1933, after voters rejected a bond measure to upgrade it. In 1939, the Corvallis Municipal Airport was built south of the city.

Aerial photography featured in "Up, Up and Away" has been very popular among visitors, particularly a large black and white picture of Corvallis circa 1970. People have enjoyed finding where their houses would be, Tolonen said.

There's also a large display case full of commercial flight souvenirs from various airlines during the 1950s, which came from the Bump family of Kings Valley.

"It's a huge collection of all their travel brochures with information starting around 1950. They saved everything after traveling the whole world," Tolonen said.

"Everybody got a kick out of these old pictures of the luxurious stuff people used to get while flying," Fraundorf said.

Commercial flight passengers received meals and other freebies, she said.

"Up, Up and Away" generates nostalgia for some, reminding them of their first flight. Kids are frequently drawn to the models, toys and other things to which they can relate.

In fact, Tolonen said the exhibit features items to attract people of all ages. 


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