Happy National Aviation Day – a day that we honor the history and continued advances in aviation! President Franklin Theodore Roosevelt first introduced National Aviation Day in 1939. The date of August 19th was chosen because it’s also the birthday of Orville Wright, who along with his brother Wilbur, made early advancements in powered flight.
In celebration of National Aviation Day, we’ve done a deep dive into the SHD historical archives to share with you the fascinating history of creating the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport. To begin the journey, we need to travel back to 1953 to a group of forward-thinking business and community leaders who were set on ushering in new economic growth for the region. At the time numerous small landing strips provided limited air access to the area. Members of the Airport Committee formed by the Staunton-Augusta Chamber of Commerce and led by Dr. A. Erskine Sproul, quickly recognized that an air transportation facility with significant capabilities was key in competing for larger economic development investments.
Knowing the far-reaching impact an airport could have, leaders from Harrisonburg, Rockingham County, Staunton, and Augusta County joined forces to form the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport Commission in 1955 with Waynesboro joining a few years later. Together they identified Weyers Cave as the most mutually beneficial location for an airport with close access to a major highway and within easy reach of each locality. By March 14, 1957, the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport Commission broke ground on the site of the $600,000 Shenandoah Valley Joint Airport featuring a 100 by 4,000-foot paved airstrip. (Since that time our runway has been expanded to 150 by 6,002 feet.)
In just three short years, the Shenandoah Valley Airport was dedicated to the community on January 31, 1960 to much fanfare including a planned appearance of radio/television broadcaster and aviation enthusiast, Arthur Godfrey. Local newspapers reported the “largest congregation of automobiles ever assembled in Augusta County” – roughly 8,000 cars jammed on primary and secondary roads trying to get to Weyers Cave. An estimated 5,000 people actually made it to the celebration while Augusta County Sheriff’s Department and State Police had to turn many away who were stuck in the gridlock around the county.
Unfortunately, strong winds and ice disrupted plans for Mr. Godfrey to speak but he did make a quick stop at the airport right before the ceremony was to begin to congratulate leaders on “another milestone in the revolutionary industrial development of the Valley” and remarked on the “nice, beautiful facility”. Mr. Godfrey then hurriedly departed to get back to Leesburg Airport before the storm closed in.
One day later on February 1, 1960, the first scheduled commercial flight by Piedmont Airlines took off from the new airport on a Douglas DC-3, solidifying a new era of aviation for the Shenandoah Valley. The first air service included direct flights to Washington National Airport, now Reagan National Airport, and another flight that connected passengers to Roanoke, VA, Asheville, NC, and the Tri-Cities of Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City plus Knoxville in Tennessee.
Dr. A. Erskine Sproul continued to champion aviation advancement in the Shenandoah Valley. In August 1971 he was appointed to the Airport Commission as the City of Staunton representative and later became the Commission Chairman. In honor of his invaluable service, the Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport (SHD) Airline Terminal was dedicated to Dr. A. Erskine Sproul on September 28, 1991.
Continuing the early vision of the founders of the airport, SHD remains dedicated to serving the community and providing a catalyst for economic development efforts in the region. It’s with a strong appreciation of our rich history and commitment to the future of aviation in the Shenandoah Valley that we celebrate National Aviation Day with all of you!