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The first airport in the Charleston area to offer scheduled airline service, Wertz Field, just west of West Virginia State College (now University) in Institute, opened July 4, 1930. The airport was named for Charleston Mayor W. W. Wertz, and was leased to West Virginia Airways, Inc., a group of prominent Charleston businessmen.

In October 1933, American Airlines began passenger service between Washington and Chicago via Wertz Field, and in 1935 more flights were added when Pennsylvania Central Airlines began service at the airport. Air freight service began the same year. In 1942, the federal government acquired the field and adjoining land for the construction of a plant to produce synthetic rubber for World War II. Wertz Field closed in 1942.

For much of its brief history, Wertz Field boasted a small but very modern-looking administration building where passengers awaited their flights. There were three grass runways, each just long enough to accommodate the early Douglas DC-3s and similar craft but inadequate for the larger planes coming into use by the late 1930s. Beginning in late 1939, ground school courses and flying lessons were offered at Wertz Field as part of the National Civilian Pilot Training Program designed to prepare young men for military aviation. Most of the trainees were African-American students at West Virginia State College, and several went on to become Tuskegee Airmen and to serve in the famous Army Air Corps 99th Pursuit Squadron.

Until it closed, Wertz Field was a popular place for sightseers to watch planes take off and land and to attend the occasional air show. Among the famous aviators to make stopovers were Wiley Post and Harold Gatty, who toured America following their record-breaking 1931 around-the-world flight.

This Article was written by Louis E. Keefer

Last Revised on November 12, 2010

Related Articles


Cohen, Stan & Richard Andre. Kanawha County Images. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company & Kanawha County Bicentennial, 1987.

Withrow, Dolly. From the Grove to the Stars: West Virginia State College 1891-1991. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1991.

Cite This Article

Keefer, Louis E. "Wertz Field." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 12 November 2010. Web. 23 March 2018.


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