Writing a new chapter in history

Published 10:38 pm Tuesday, December 29, 2009

At one time, people thought the 1930s-era WPA hangar at the Chilton County Airport was doomed. While historically significant, the building was merely a shell of what it once was. It’s no surprise that two years ago, the hangar was named “most endangered structure in Alabama.”

But the collective vision of several dedicated pilots and the Chilton County Airport Authority would not let this structure die. Just this month, work began on renovating the old hangar.

While virtually everything but the concrete foundation and the original brick is being ripped out and replaced with new materials, the soul of the hangar — originally built as a project of the Works Project Administration in the wake of the New Deal — will live on as the airport writes its next chapter in history.

Gragg-Wade Field is one of the oldest and most historic sites in the state. Once, it served as an emergency landing site on Commercial Airmail Route 40 between Memphis and Tampa, Fla. Also, the other larger hangar was used by the Tuskegee Airmen. It was transported here from Tuskegee in 1948.

The renovations are coming at a significant time for the airport. The airport authority is close to completing a major land acquisition project that will allow full use of the runway.

For years, part of the runway has been closed because it has been unsafe for larger aircraft to land here. This is due to obstacles in the flight path, such as trees.

Meanwhile, it’s good to see more visible progress at Gragg-Wade. Soon the airport will be able to offer more aircraft space and, in turn, yield more revenue.

It can be easy to overlook both the historical significance of the airport and its continuing role in the county today. As Chilton County grows and develops, the airport is a hub for political and business endeavors and is an essential part of transportation.

We may never fully realize the impact this project will have on our area.