Sunday, June 26, 2022

Lyman Gilmore - A Local Legend

All of us “locals” know Lyman Gilmore as the middle school off of Rough and Ready Highway on the way out of downtown Grass Valley.  I do not know how or when you actually become a local, but it happens at some point.  Obviously if you were born in our quaint oasis in the Sierra Nevada mountains and you still live here, you are a local.  Others of us have been here and have raised families and called Nevada County our home for over 20 years.  You can’t really just put a number of years on when you magically become a local.  One needs to understand and feel this wonderful county, its people, and its deeply rich history.  I have lived all over the world, and but for being goverened by the State of California, it is my traveled opinion that Nevada County is the best place on the planet…and the locals told me as much when we moved here in 1998, but I digress.

So anyways, who was Lyman Gilmore?  I think that almost all of the “locals” in town know who Gilmore is, but our newer residents may not yet be properly acquainted with this local legend.  

Lyman Gilmore was an aviator from Nevada County, California, at the turn of the 20th century, who claimed that he invented and flew his own powered airplane 18 months before the Wright Brothers accomplished such feat.  While the Wright Brothers flew their “heavier than air” plane on December 17, 1903, near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Gilmore claimed to have done the same thing in little old Grass Valley, California, on May 15, 1902.  So why are the Wright Brothers credited with the first powered flight despite Gilmore having recorded the flights in his flight log?  It is said that Gilmore, living in very rural California, did not have the wherewithal to look for publicity and that Gilmore did not have any film of the flight.  Such explanations leave out a key detail though – Gilmore did not make his claim until 1927.


Ultimately, history claims that it was the Wright Brothers and not Gilmore who made the first powered flight.  That said, Gilmore was still a pioneer in aviation.  He contributed to the mono-wing design which was revolutionary at the time.  On May 15, 1907, Gilmore opened the first commercial airport (Gilmore Airport) in the world in Grass Valley, California.  Gilmore even invented mining tools which locals used to create efficiency in the gold mines.  Despite some his contemporary locals thinking that Gilmore was “booming mad,” Gilmore is actually a true legend in the field of aviation.  One author even lamented when a couple of Gilmore’s planes were destroyed by fire, as the author believed that they should have been in the Smithsonian Institute instead of inside Gilmore’s old barn.


So, now you also know why the Lyman Gilmore Middle School athletic teams are called the “Aviators.”  Like I said, to be a local you have to know some of the rich local history, and once you know the story about Lyman Gilmore, the locals might start to consider you a local too.


Click here to read further about Lyman Gilmore.

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