Questions, Anyone?

Capt. Phelps Collins, Flying ace

Q. The Alpena airport, originally named Phelps Collins Airport, was described in the last Q&A column. Some readers wondered, “Who was Phelps Collins?”

A. According to historian Robert Haltiner’s “The Town That Went To War,” Capt. Phelps Collins was an Alpena World War I hero and flying ace. He was 24 years old when he died in action as a fighter pilot for the famed French Lafayette Escadrille. “Phelps Collins applied for admission to the Escadrille in the spring of 1917 before America entered the war. He sailed for France on April 6, 1917, the day the United States joined the conflict, and went on active duty over the front in the fall of 1917.

“A fighter pilot who downed five or more enemy aircraft was designated an Ace. Official government documents and air war manuals credit Phelps Collins with downing seven German aircraft in air battles over France in 1917 and early 1918. He died in aerial combat March 12, 1918. Letters received by his family after his death told of the love and high esteem in which he was held by his comrades in the Lafayette Escadrille, and how he had been in aerial combat almost constantly during the week preceding his death.”

An online article states that there is a new book, published in April 2013, about Capt. Phelps Collins and Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge, both namesakes of Michigan airbases, by Roseville author Dan Heaton. The book is “Selfridge & Collins: The Life & Times of Military Aviation Pioneers Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge and Capt. Phelps Collins.”

City’s highest population

Q. A reader asks, “Has the population of the City of Alpena declined? What was the highest number of people?”

A. Yes, it has decreased. Population of the City of Alpena was 10,483 in 2010, down from 11,304 in 2000, according to U.S. Census figures compiled by Carol Shafto, planning and evaluation director of Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency. Population peaked at 14,682 in 1960. Starting in 1900 with 11,802, 10-year census figures show between 11,000s and 12,000s until 1950 shows 13,135. After the 14,682 high in 1960, the 1970 census was 13,805, then the numbers show a steady decline to 10,483 in 2010. Population boomed during the lumbering era. Figures from1880 show 6,153 and from 1890 show 11,283.

Haltiner: The 1880s

Q. How did historian Robert Haltiner describe Alpena and its population in the 1880s?

A. “In 1880 Alpena was almost 25 years old – almost “over the hill” as lumber towns went. Her lumber production would peak in 1889 and the end of her lucrative life was in sight.

“But something happened to Alpena in the decade of the 80s. The little north woods town suddenly grew up and decided to live beyond the lumber which had given her first life. Alpena truly became “the town that wouldn’t die.”

“The population of 6,000 in 1880 would mushroom to 9,000 by 1884 and surpass 10,000 by the decade’s end. Mills would number 17 – 12 lumber and 5 shingle – during most of the ’80s.”

Please send comments and questions to; or to “Questions, Anyone?”, The Alpena News, 130 Park Place, Alpena, MI 49707.