And now you know: Orange Municipal Airport, the first in Orange

Published 6:49 am Saturday, July 14, 2018

By Mike Louviere


Most people in Orange assume the current Orange County Airport is the only one that has been in Orange. The airport was constructed in 1946 by the late Edgar Brown, Jr. Brown was in the process of purchasing a DC-3 for his personal use and needed an airport for the large airplane. He owned 450 acres on Highway 87 south of Orange and decided to use part of the acreage for his airport. He built four turf runways and a hangar, which still stands today. In 1973 Orange County purchased the airport. They county added 84 acres. Over the years the primary runway has been paved and lighted and another runway built and paved. The current airport covers 385 acres.

There is some general knowledge of the first airport in Orange, but few recorded details. “Orange Municipal Airport” was constructed by Lutcher Stark in the 1920s. The location was in the area where the Pentecostal church and Masonic Lodge are now located on South Street. The streets now named South Street and Tulane Road from 37th Street to Highway 62 were once called “Airport Road.”

The airport had turf runways that were exceptionally well drained. By all accounts it could have been considered a “first class airport.”

The Orange Leader reported a visit to Orange in October 1930, by the Secretary of the Navy. It was reported: “Exceptionally fine facilities of the municipal airport today brought to Orange Secretary of the Navy Ernest Lee Jahncke and seven large naval planes.”

Secretary Jahncke had been to Houston for a celebration of he cruiser Houston paying a visit to the Port of Houston. Jahncke came into Orange on a Southern Pacific train then transferred to one of the Navy’s largest and latest type tri-motored Ford airplanes for the flight to Washington. There was an escort group of six other planes that flew into Orange to accompany the Secretary on his flight.

Secretary Jahncke and Commander Clark, the pilot, declared that the local airport was one of the best they have seen in the South. The party was amazed that after nearly 24 hours of continuous rain the landing field had remained in a firm condition

“The department has had some mighty fine reports from Orange as to the port facilities and waterways and now we find you have one of the finest airports in the country”, said Jahncke.

L.B. Murry, the pilot for Stark said the Secretary’s plane was the largest to ever land in Orange and “despite its size it took off with ease.”

Another major event at the airport occurred in 1935 when the airplane “Stars and Stripes” landed in Orange for a two-day exhibition. This was the plane that Admiral Richard E. Byrd had used on both his expeditions to the South Pole. The plane was a seven passenger Fairchild. For a nominal fee those wishing to fly in the plane could receive a short flight around Orange.

There was an ad in the Leader in 1934 for Orange Air School at the airport. The ad stated you could learn to fly for $30. The ad stated it was cheaper than learning to play golf.

Exactly what happened to the airport and why such a fine facility did not survive is a bit of a mystery. The consensus is that there was a storm in or around 1939 that caused major damage to the airport and destroyed Stark’s personal airplane. Maybe by that time use of the airport was no longer profitable. It will be interesting to continue to research and find out more about the first airport in Orange.

“And now you know”