Wilmington’s airport…or was it Billerica’s?
The Shawsheen Pines Airport, photographed in 1947. Hopkins Street is visible at the top of the picture. The main runway points toward Wilmington. The two buildings with checkered markings are hangars.

Copyright Larz F. Neilson - 2010

WILMINGTON - In the late 1940’s, Billy Fay noticed airplanes flying low over his home on Brand Avenue in Wilmington, near Rocco’s Restaurant. He soon realized there was an airport nearby. He rode his bicycle up Shawsheen Avenue to Hopkins Street, where he found the Shawsheen Pines airport, on the Billerica - Wilmington town line.

Billy, not ten years old, decided he wanted to be a pilot. He and his friends spent many happy hours at the airport, watching the planes, and even climbing on some junked planes near one of the hangars.

The airport was started in 1946 by a Woburn man, Russell Todman, who built a small airstrip in a field on Hopkins Street, at the Wilmington - Billerica town line. There was a hangar and a few J3 Piper Cubs.

Before long, auto dealer Fred Cain offered to go into a partnership with Todman. Cain was then the second-largest dealer for International Harvester trucks in New England. He had sold and financed some trucks to a contractor working on the Alcan Highway to Alaska. The contractor went out of business, so Cain went up and repossessed the trucks. He also bought some surplus army trucks, and brought the collection back to Wilmington.  With this equipment, Cain built Todman’s little airstrip into an airport.

Cain then went to Texas, where he bought three AT-6 trainers and two twin-engine Cessnas. He had them refurbished and flown to the little airport.

The airport had two hangars, Quonset hut buildings, next to Hopkins Street. In Billerica, the road is called Alexander Road. The site is not far from the Shawsheen Valley Technical High School. Today, it is an industrial park.

Cain brought in a flight instructor, John Hanson, and a mechanic, Larry Teed, who started a flight school. Things went well until Todman allowed someone to take up a plane after only one lesson, after being told specifically not to do that. The plane, an AT-6, only had one hour on it since being rebuilt. The flight went well, except for the landing, when the plane hit a stone wall. Frustrated with the lack of cooperation, Cain said he wanted to get out.

Hanson and Teed bought land in Tewksbury and established the Tew-Mac Airport, which they later sold to Cliff Hupper. They later built the Lawrence Airport.

The Shawsheen Pines airport property was eventually sold for $45,000. It was later owned by Joseph Linsey, who sold gravel from the property - and, as it turns out - from adjacent property as well.

Linsey had a criminal record as a bootlegger during Prohibition and later became quite wealthy. Among his properties were the Raynham dog track and the Sidney Hill Country Club. It is said that his name was heard in the tapes from the phone lines of Raymond Patriaca, who was reputed to be the head of all organized crime in New England.

Linsey had a rather slick gravel operation, selling large quantities of material for the construction of the Interstate Highway System and runway expansion at Logan Airport. He also had contracts for disposing of building debris, which the trucks would dump at the airport, making money on both ends of the trip. Both Billerica and Wilmington tried to shut his operation down, but he would claim to be working in the other town. Both towns obtained injunctions to stop the gravel operation, only to have them overturned by the state attorney general. Linsey evidently had “connections.”

The operation was repeatedly shut down, only to start back up a few years later. The trucks would be running for several days before anyone noticed, and they could access the property from Cook Street or Alexander Road in Billerica. Linsey, knowing he would eventually be shut down, took full advantage of every day of operation, running gravel trucks from sun-up to sundown. He sold a lot of gravel.

The late Paul Duggan, who was superintendent of the Wilmington Water Department said that a considerable amount of gravel was stolen from Water Department property adjacent to Linsey’s gravel operation. Nobody was caught taking town gravel, and no charges were filed.

Two women from the Wilmington Conservation Commission went onto the old airport property, some time in the early 1980s. They very quickly departed after they heard bullets whizzing over their heads.

Linsey eventually sold the property to a man from Billerica, who kept up the same kind of operation. And though his name was off the deed, Linsey reportedly was still collecting on every truckload of gravel. When the new owner was summoned before the Wilmington Conservation Commission, his wife went in his place, telling the commission that her husband was in the hospital with heart trouble.

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