July 4, 1930: Wertz Field Opens at Institute

This Week in West Virginia History.

Wertz Field opened at Institute in Kanawha County on July 4, 1930. Named for Charleston’s mayor, it was the first airport in the Kanawha Valley to offer scheduled airline service.

In 1933, American Airlines began passenger service between Washington and Chicago via Wertz Field, and, in 1935, more flights and air freight service were added.

Passengers could wait for flights in a small but modern administration building. Wertz had three grass runways, each just long enough to accommodate an early Douglas DC-3 but inadequate for most larger planes of the 1930s.

Beginning in 1939, ground school courses and flying lessons were offered at Wertz Field as part of the National Civilian Pilot Training Program. Most of the trainees were African-American students at nearby West Virginia State College—now University—several of whom went on to become Tuskegee Airmen.

Wertz Field closed in 1942, when the federal government acquired the land to build a synthetic rubber plant for World War II. Throughout its brief history, Wertz Field was a popular place for sightseers to watch planes take off and land and to see air shows.