Penn Field

By: Art Leatherwood

Type: General Entry

Published: May 1, 1995

Penn Field, an early landing field in Travis County, was established in 1918 for use of the School of Military Aeronautics conducted by the University of Texas for the United States government. The field was named Penn Landing Field in memory of aviation cadet Eugene Doak Penn, an Austin flyer, who died in a training accident near Foggia, Italy, on May 20, 1918. A perspicacious chamber of commerce, anticipating the need in Austin for an aircraft-landing field, secured an option on land just south of Austin. It included a part of the campus of St. Edwards University and some adjacent land owned by Landa, Gruene and Marbach of New Braunfels. Gen. George O. Squire, chief signal officer of the United States Army Signal Corps, deemed 150 acres suitable for a landing field; he approved the site in September 1917. Lt. John A. McCurdy, commander of advanced cross-country and formation flying at Kelly Field, San Antonio, made a flight into the field and approved it except for the rocks and cornstalks. The chamber of commerce appointed a cleanup committee, and on four Sundays in September volunteer labor, including Boy Scouts and boys from the Deaf and Dumb Institute (see SCHOOL FOR THE DEAF), picked up and hauled away 317 truckloads of rocks from the surface. The quantity of cornstalks removed is not recorded. Lt. McCurdy subsequently began bringing in flights of twelve to twenty planes several times a week. In March 1918 the University of Texas was authorized to establish a radio school. Brackenridge Hall was the first location of the school, but it was soon moved to Penn Field. The university took up the option on the land and purchased 318 acres for $40,000. A railway track was laid to the site, and by November 1918 five brick buildings totaling 168,000 square feet were constructed. After the war ended in 1918 the site was auctioned off to the highest bidder for $107,000. The Woodward Truck Body Company installed machinery there and manufactured wooden truck bodies until the plant was destroyed by a tornado on May 4, 1922. The buildings were reconstructed, and the Woodward Furniture Factory went into operation in them and manufactured furniture during most of the Great Depression.

H. D. Kroll, ed., Kelly Field in the Great World War (San Antonio: Press of San Antonio Printing Company, 1919). Walter E. Long, Wings over Austin (1962).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Art Leatherwood, “Penn Field,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995