Were there airplanes zipping around the skies of Carter County in 1905?
By: Jeremy D. Wells
Carter County Times
Everyone is familiar with the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright. They had their first powered airplane flight in 1903. By 1905 they had developed their Wright Flyer III, and in 1908 carried their first passenger.
Folks in Carter County will also be familiar with Matthew B. Sellers II. The Olive Hill resident was an aviation pioneer, whose mother Angeline Lewis had Carter County roots and moved the family back there part time – at a mansion she named Blakemore – after the younger Matthew was born in Baltimore where the family located following the Civil War. It was there that Matthew began work in an air tunnel at the same time the Wright’s were doing their work in Ohio and Kitty Hawk, NC.
It was also in Olive Hill that Sellers developed the first retractable landing gear, which he began developing in 1908 and patented in 1911, among other aviation innovations.
Sellers is also widely credited with making the first powered flight in Kentucky, also in 1908 in his quadraplane (a four winged aircraft).
But, if the Olive Hill Times articles collected by Jack Fultz are to be taken at face value, members of the Fultz family were making flying trips around the area as early as 1905. And apparently doing so with passengers, a full three years before the Wrights were credited with their first passenger flights. Items in the 1905 Olive Hill Times indicate that Bart Fultz (Fults) made a “flying trip” with Elmer Stallard to Brussia in August of that year. W.R. Fultz (Fults) is also said to have made a flying trip to Gates and “staid (sic) for two days,” around the same time. The Fultzes were also said to be making regular flights into Salt Lick and Olive Hill around the same time.
By 1906 the flights appear to have either ceased, or become so commonplace they no longer warranted mention in the local press. Regardless of the reason, the small – almost throw away – notices of their flying trips in local press aren’t found in the paper after 1905, though for several months the paper was fairly peppered with stories of their “flying trips.”
It’s an interesting bit of local history that seems to fly in the face of popular and official timelines, especially if further evidence of these flights could be corroborated by photograph or mention in other media. Regardless, it’s an intriguing thought to think of aeroplanes or gliders soaring over early Carter County, three years before the first accepted powered flights which we know have roots in the county.
Editor’s Note: This is the 28th in a series of articles drawn from the historical newspaper clippings and documents in the scrapbooks of Jack Fultz. We thank Sally James of Sally’s Flowers in Olive Hill for sharing her uncle’s collected clippings with us and the community. – Jeremy D. Wells, editor, Carter County Times