Dearly Departed

Even when it was tiny, Charlotte's airport was vital

Not so long ago, flying was a romantic adventure. Having lunch at the popular Douglas Airport restaurant and watching planes land and take off was considered a great way to while away a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Charlotte was dotted with a number of small landing fields as aviation began to flourish following World War I. One of the first fields, located along Selwyn Avenue near Myers Park Country Club, doubled as the polo grounds. Another popular air strip was near Wilkinson Boulevard, not far from the present Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

It was here that an Eastern Airlines eighteen-passenger Curtis Condor landed on December 10, 1930, inaugurating commercial aviation in Charlotte. The Charlotte Airport provided two flights daily and averaged about thirty passengers per month.

The city received a $200,000 grant from the Works Progress Administration in 1930 to establish the first municipal airport, located on the property that now encompasses the vast Charlotte Douglas International Airport. At the dedication, WPA administrator John Grice delivered these prophetic words, "This is a history-making event. The importance and significance will not be fully realized until a year or two have passed."

By 1937, when Eastern Airlines began scheduled air service, the Charlotte Airport was considered one of the most modern in the nation, with three runways and a modern terminal. The original airport hangar still exists and is home to the Carolinas Aviation Museum.

The airport served as Morris Field Air Base during World War II, and the expansion and improvements for military use provided the infrastructure for post-war development. A new 70,000-square-foot passenger terminal opened in 1954, and the airport was named in honor of former Mayor Ben Douglas, a tireless promoter of airport expansion although he hated to fly and was seldom lured onto a plane.

The small, two-story terminal was outdated within thirty years, and the sprawling terminal that now serves the airport opened in 1982.
Charlotte Douglas International Airport has become the dynamo propelling growth in the region and now ranks among the top airports in the nation with more than 600 flight departures daily.

Categories: Buzz > Way We Were