Thursday, November 11, 2010

Airport Opens 1943

In October 1940, the Civil Aeronautics Administration decided an airport in the Salisbury area should be part of the national defense plan. On November 25, 1941 seven farms containing 695 acres were purchased (for $41,452) near Mt. Hermon Road.

Following a basic design of 3 5,000 feet concrete runways, round the clock construction begin. Due to the war time labor shortage of men really good wages were paid and lots of overtime was available.

A lot of people were required as seen in the above ad from B. Perini and Sons. As usual the construction contract did not go to a local company.

E. Clarke Gardner, director of Salisbury public works and Work Project Administration (WPA) labor cleared the land and paved the runways in 51 weeks, at a cost of $1,500,000.

On November 11th, Thursday, 1943, Armistice day at about 2:30 PM the dedication of the Salisbury-Wicomico county airport took place.

Salisbury stores closed for the occasion.

Before a crowd of 6,000 on a very cold, wind swept, snowy day at the airport the "Dawn of a new age" was announced by the politicians. Winters back in the 1940's were much like the winter we had last year. Cold weather started in September and snow was on the ground by November. A number of airports on the East Coast were closed due to the snow so many of planes scheduled to fly in for the opening ceremonies didn't make it. The politicians from the western shore that did make it were forced to spend the night in Salisbury due to the weather. The high winds and failure of the public address system prevented many from hearing the speeches. Today that may be considered a blessing but in the 1940s Politicians were still respected and feared. The Navy group of commanders came in a B-26 Martin Marauder and it was commented on that the B-26 used only a third of a mile of runway to land and take off. It was pointed that the Salisbury-Wicomico airport was one of 865 completed in 1943.

On May 15, 1944 the city and county signed a lease with the navy for one dollar for the airport to become the Salisbury Naval Auxiliary Air Station.

After the war, on November 15, 1945 the airport reverted back to civilian use.

In 1946 Chesapeake Airways (as shown in the above postcard) started operations at the Salisbury Airport. The officers and Directors were; Fred P. Adkins president, Charles D. Briddell and Enos Valliant vice presidents, Stanley Robins secretary, Ralph Grier treasurer, John Downing, Ralph Dulany, Avery Hall, Edgar Bennett and George Radcliffe, officers. It sounded like a who-who of the 1940s and 1950's in the Salisbury area. On April 4, 1946 the first Chesapeake planes arrived, with appropriate politicians giving speeches and taking credit. Mostly their planes were C-47’s and DC-3’s. They handled 25,000 passengers in the first 18 months. At $6.50 for passenger fare from Salisbury to Baltimore the airlines couldn't make it and stumbled on until 1949 and folded. Chesapeake Airways does still exist but as a part supplier. Followed by several other short lived local airlines it was not until Mr. Richard Henson moved his commuter service to Salisbury in 1968 as Henson Airlines that the airport found some stability.

In 1992 U.S. Airways purchased Henson Airlines and made it a part of its U.S. Airways Express system. The name was changed to Piedmont Airlines and the Salisbury operation grew to over 800 employees, as it became the maintenance center for U.S. Airways Express commuter aircraft.

1 comment:

  1. Now days, politicians are still feared, but not respected!