The Lark of Duluth in Flight

It was 110 years ago today that the first commercial air-ship line took its inaugural flight. The Lark of Duluth didn’t lift off from Duluth that day, however. Tony and Roger Jannus brought the small hydro-aeroplane to St. Petersburg, Fla. by rail with the mission to develop the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line. The Lark arrived there on Dec. 31, 1913, and the inaugural flight was on Jan. 1, 1914.

The photo accompanying this post is presumably not from that historic flight in St. Petersburg, but rather from the previous summer in Duluth.

Julius Barnes, president of the Duluth Boat Club in 1913, brought the plane from St. Louis and housed it at the club on Minnesota Point. The Benoist modal XIV was rechristened the Lark of Duluth. That summer, during the Lark o’ the Lake celebration, flights were made along the St. Louis River.

The handwritten caption on the back of this photo reads:

Flying exclusively
W. D. Jones of Duluth, Minn. First man on the Great Lakes to own and operate a flying boat. Photo shows Mr. Jones in his Benoist airboat giving a friend a joyride.

Though Barnes was the actual owner of the plane, William D. “Gasoline Bill” Jones was generally credited as the owner because Barnes was a grain trader who often needed to borrow money and bankers at the time were not too keen on the risky hobby of flying.

Though Jones was not a pilot when he became the “owner” of the plane, he was a passenger in one of three flights the plane took in Duluth on July 24, 1913, and briefly took control of the plane, according to the Duluth Herald, which noted Jones “expects to take her up alone in a few days.”

The photo is credited to Henry Woodhouse, who apparently was not only a noted aviation journalist but also a forger of historical artifacts. Oh, and a murderer.

For more on the Lark of Duluth check out duluthaviationinstitute.org and zenithcity.com.

Below is the article from the July 25, 1913 Duluth Herald newspaper.

4 Comments

Eric Chandler

about 7 months ago

When I go running on Tampa layovers along their Riverwalk, there's an informational marker there that talks about the first commercial flight. It's only because I know about the Lark of Duluth that I knew the connection. The informational marker makes no mention of the Duluth connection.

Eric Chandler

about 7 months ago

There's also a display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC about the plane.
 

Paul Lundgren

about 7 months ago

Does the model plane have "The Lark of Duluth" painted under the top wing?

Matthew James

about 6 months ago

Sort of. The model says "of DUI" on the underside of the wing, and the incomplete lettering isn't an accident. Apparently the model maker was very detail oriented and the model represents the plane at a very particular moment in time: when it was used for the first commercial flight. After it had been taken down from Duluth, repairs were made to the fabric on the wings, covering all but a few of the letters from "The Lark of Duluth." A complete story of the model and its restoration can be found here at airandspace.si.edu.

The model is directly next to a docent station at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and, after I took the photo below, I explained to the person staffing it why I was taking a picture of the model from below. He had never noticed those letters before and was happy to have the extra information. He had also graduated from the University of Minnesota some years ago and appreciated the Minnesota connection. I showed him how to find this post on his phone and he had it open and was talking about it with his colleague when I walked away. So even though there is no mention of Duluth on the interpretative signage, if anyone asks about those partial letters, they will now get a full explanation.
  

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