History - American Air Force Base

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There is probably no other event in the history of Kippens that has had the impact on the community that the coming of the Harmon Air Force Base had.

Up until about 1940, there were not even one hundred people in Kippens. People here made their living either by fishing or by working in the lumber woods. Some would have to leave Kippens in order to find work, quite a few men worked at the Aguathuna limestone quarry, and some went to work in Canada and in the United States. Most families had a garden which supplied them with vegetables, and they usually had some type of farm animal, such as cows, which supplied them with milk, meat, and leather to make footwear; sheep, which supplied them with meat and wool for making clothes; and chickens, which supplied fresh poultry and eggs. Some families owned a horse or an ox, which was used to haul wood and other supplies. Flour, sugar, tea and other supplies were bought in bulk from Abbott and Haliburton's or Romaine's in the fall of the year. People worked from daylight to dark, and this was necessary just to survive. Luxuries were few and far between (if they existed at all), and vacations were practically nonexistent -- there was simply too much to do. Then everything changed.

In 1940 Stephenville was chosen as the site for the United States Air Force Base. One of the reasons that Stephenville was chosen as the site was that it had less fog per year than almost anywhere else in Newfoundland, and Stephenville was also in a good location for the New York to London air route.

Did you know?
Mr. Fred Thomas of Stephenville did some of the earliest maintenance done on the road passing through Kippens. Mr. Fred Thomas would travel from Stephenville with his horse and his cart full of gravel, and he would fill in the potholes in the road as he traveled the length of the road.

Construction began on the new air force base in 1941. Land was bought from the residents of Stephenville and used for the construction of the base. One family that moved to Kippens as a result was the family of Mr. Jack O'Neill.

Businesses started up almost overnight. Stephenville now had a movie theatre, taverns, a bakery, and various other types of businesses. A police detachment was opened at Stephenville, and new schools were built in Stephenville and Kippens. An airport was constructed, as was the fire department. Houses were constructed in order to accommodate the rapidly increasing population. Kippens, in 1945, had a population of 493 people. This was a big increase over a very short period of time. The radio station brought in news and music, automobiles were becoming commonplace, and taxi stands were built to accommodate those who did not have their own automobiles. Telephones were showing up in more and more homes and businesses. People began to learn new trades, working on the base as mechanics, carpenters, electricians, etc.

Practically everyone agrees that the Harmon Air Force Base was a positive thing. People now had secure jobs, they could better provide for their families and for their future. The community of Kippens definitely gained a lot from the Base, but as with most things gained, something was lost: When the base started, all the strangers moved in. Before that, we hardly ever went to Stephenville … When the Base started there was a lot more activity, a lot more money … Everybody here was better off, because a lot of people had jobs and they could do more for themselves and make better houses. Then people stayed more themselves, a lot, as if it is today. They didn't visit like they did before … They had to punch a clock to go to work at a certain time and then they had to do their chores after they came home from work, and there was no time for visiting anymore. The Ernest Harmon Air Force Base closed on December 29, 1966.