Gates-Myers Mansion: The Balloon Farm, Frankfort, New York

From the Cooney Archives: THIS DAY IN HISTORY … On July 4, 1880, a crowd of 15,000 gathered in Little Falls to watch the maiden flight of balloonist Mary Hawley. She had, for the occasion, chosen the professional name of Carlotta, the Lady Aeronaut. Her husband, Carl Meyers, the Professor, was the ingenious designer of balloons and the gas generators for filling them with hot air. Never again known as Mary, Carlotta made more than 60 flights over the next two years.


The Gates-Myers Mansion was the home of Mary Breed Hawley Myers and her husband, Carl Edgar, both aeronautical engineers. They manufactured and sold balloons on their farm, known locally as “The Balloon Farm,” in Frankfort, New York. The farm consisted of five acres and a 30-room mansion built by William Gates in 1878.


In 1844, Gates established a wooden phosphorus match manufacturing plant along the Erie Canal at Frankfort. All work was done by hand until Mr. Gates invented and patented a match-making machine in 1854. By the late 1850s, the Gates Match Factory was the largest employer in the village of Frankfort, employing over 300 workers. The company merged with the Diamond Match Company and, in 1893, moved to Oswego to be closer to its suppliers.


Mary’s first hot air balloon flight was in 1878 by a professional aeronaut. She developed an interest in solo flying after watching Carl conduct many safe pilot test flights. Her first solo balloon flight took place in Little Falls, New York, on July 4, 1880, with a spectator group of 15,000 people. Upon entering her balloon at 5 pm that evening, she released a carrier pigeon that carried a note to friends in Mohawk, letting them know that her flight was to begin. Mary flew her balloon for half an hour, reaching Stratford, 15 miles away, and she safely descended it onto a farmer’s field. For the next 11 years, she conducted demonstrations of balloon flights as “Carlotta, The Lady Aeronaut,” taking over 100,000 people up in the air with her.


In 1885, the Myers’ obtained several patents on guiding and steering apparatuses for hot air balloons. Starting in 1889, after acquiring the Gates Mansion Farm, they built lighter-than-air hydrogen-fueled passenger airship balloons. They also built high-altitude scientific weather balloons and U.S. Military balloons, some of which were used by the U.S. Signal Corps in the Spanish-American War. They also conducted balloon flight lessons at the farm.


Mary set a record for being the first female in the U.S. to pilot her own aircraft. She also set a record in altitude for flying four miles high, 20,000 feet, with a balloon fueled by natural gas. She did this without the use of oxygen-assisted equipment. According to Carl’s calculations, Myers had made more balloon flights than any man in America by the time she retired in 1891.

*From The Cooney Archive’s: This Day In History by Louis W. Baum JR, Digitizing of historical photos by Gail & Mike Potter, Article written by Darlene Smith
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