• January



Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields: Central Virginia – Wood Field, Charlottesville, VA

38.1, -78.551 (Southwest of Washington, DC)

Charlottesville’s first airport opened on this site in 1929, which turned out to be very bad timing: only 2 months before the big stock market crash.

According to Phil James’ 4/7/17 Crozet Gazette article “Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Dixie Flying Service at Wood Field” (courtesy of Jim Burns),

“Workmen with the aid of tractors & 40 mules busily graded runways in preparation for central Virginia’s first commercial airfield.

Edward Sturhahn, president of newly minted Dixie Flying Service Inc., secured a deed in May 1929 for the 145-acre tract from Hugh Garth who had taken possession of the property less than 3 years earlier.

Sturhahn & his peers had come of age during an era of rapid industrial advancements.

Rail service that radically altered lifestyles in the 19th century was, by the 1920s, shedding business to private trucks & automobiles.

The early 20th century saw important advancements with experimental aircraft being tested by dreamers & bicycle mechanics.”

The article continued, “In June 1929, Dixie Flying signed a contract for the construction of a 60×60’ steel hangar.

Local contractors Failes & Burrage built a Spanish-style clubhouse.

That centerpiece of the airfield included a large main floor meeting room for flight classes & social functions, a private dining room and kitchen, chart room, and restrooms.

The basement contained dressing rooms & showers. A rooftop observation tower allowed an unobstructed view of the field’s 3 landing strips.

Boxwoods adorned the grounds surrounding the clubhouse.

Dixie Flying’s Vice President Captain Malcolm Robinson piloted the service’s first official passenger, Columbus Wells, on a nonstop hop to New York City on August 21.

Within weeks, a decision was made to name the airport Wood Field in honor of WWI aviator Buck Wood.”

The article continued, “At the close of 1929, Dixie Flying Service at Wood Field was numbered among Virginia’s 31 airports.

Each of its 3 landing strips was in service; the clubhouse had an able manager; and its active Aviation Club had 50 members.

The airport officially was christened Wood Field on Memorial Day 1930. American Legion Charlottesville-Albemarle Post 74 organized the event.

Dignitaries participated alongside the Monticello Guard & VFW.

Charlottesville’s Municipal Band performed, and a bronze tablet memorializing 1st Lt. R.H. ‘Buck’ Wood Jr. was unveiled at the airport’s entrance by his sister, Mrs. Isabelle Wood Holt.

General William ‘Billy’ Mitchell, who had been in charge of the American Expeditionary Forces during WWI, delivered the keynote address.”

Mitchell noted, “When ‘Young Wood’ entered the service, there were hardly 50 American aviators. He was therefore one of the forerunners of a new force.”

The article continued, “During the Great Depression, Dixie Flying Service Inc. inaugurated regularly scheduled air service up & down the east coast.

They also acquired Byrd Field at Richmond & the municipal airport at Danville.

Two devastating storms struck Wood Field a month apart in 1931.

Fierce winds tore planes from their moorings, tossing them like toys across the field & onto the highway, while lightning struck another.

Two burst into flames that reduced them to tangled ruins. Hailstones riddled fabric-covered wings & perforated metal fuselages.

During the first storm, the hangar was unroofed & damaged beyond repair.

The next storm damaged more planes plus the replacement hangar that was still under construction.

Losses not covered by insurance added to the burden of the economic times.”

The 1931 USGS topo map depicted several buildings at the site of Wood Field, but did not depict or label the airfield.

According to Phil James’ 4/7/17 Crozet Gazette article “Secrets of the Blue Ridge: Dixie Flying Service at Wood Field” (courtesy of Jim Burns),

“The Cavalier Daily noted in November 1932 a new plane purchased by the Flying Club.

The club’s optimistic yet dwindling membership reflected realities of that day.

In March 1933, Dixie Flying Service was dissolved by its stockholders. Its landing strips were left available for emergency landings, sans liability.

Only an occasional air show during the ensuing years, along with the empty replacement hangar, reminded passersby of the lofty dreams, and dreamers, that had taken flight at that special place.”

Wood Field was no longer depicted on the February 1934 Winston-Salem Sectional Chart, which instead depicted the racetrack on the property.

According to a Charlottesville City Council Report (courtesy of Jim Burns), portions of the Wood Field original hangar were relocated to a building at 1001 West Main Street.

The report stated, “A Mr. Rothwell acquired the property about 1936 and added the west end, into which he incorporated roof trusses & windows from a hanger at the defunct Foxfields Airport.”

A 1963 aerial photo depicted a single unpaved northwest/southeast runway, along with the hangar on the north side.

There was no sign of the Spanish-style clubhouse which had been next to the hangar.

The Wood Field property had belonged to the Vandevender family for generations.

After Grover Vandevender died, the property was bougth by Mariann de Tejeda, who built a horse racetrack on the property, named Foxfield.

In 1978, Foxfield’s inaugural race was run, and the property continues to host horse racing.

To read full article and discover all the Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields in Central Virginia, click here.

Story credit: http://www.airfields-freeman.com/VA/Airfields_VA_C.htm
Photo credit: A circa 1929-33 photo of 2 aircraft, Wood Field’s hangar, and Dixie Flying Service’s Spanish-style clubhouse.

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