Local history: Vero Beach Regional Airport

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First terminal building in 1929.
First terminal building in 1929.

The year was 1929, and the town of Vero Beach had been incorporated for only 10 years when the town fathers decided to build an airport. Just across the spillway of the main outlet canal, they were able to buy 100 acres of land, and that is where a small dirt runway was constructed.

This was an ambitious project but a “must have” for this young newly created community. The Chamber of Commerce spearheaded a drive to raise money to prepare this rough pasture into a proper landing field. With several winter residents interested in aviation, the chamber raised the $5,000 to complete this innovative project.

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Terminal built by Navy in World War II.
Terminal built by Navy in World War II.

An aviation exhibition was dedicated, and the airport opened in 1929. Aviation displays were popular, and the newly built Vero Beach Airport entertained many including an encampment of the U.S. Army Air Corps. Gen. “Hap” Arnold brought over 200 airplanes for this exhibit to touch and go from these dirt runways. The Army Air Corps would later become the United States Air Force.

Eastern Air Transport Co., later known as Eastern Air Lines, needed a re-fueling stop between Jacksonville and Miami. B.L. “Bud” Holman who was acquainted with Eddie Rickenbacker and other Eastern officials, encouraged the fuel stop in Cocoa to be reassigned to Vero Beach. With that accomplished a small airport terminal was built at the southwest corner of the airfield. A wooden bridge was extended over the main outlet canal through a new residential development of McAnsh Park.

Vero Beach became a refueling stop for Eastern Air Transport Company, later Eastern Airlines.
Vero Beach became a refueling stop for Eastern Air Transport Company, later Eastern Airlines.

By 1932, Eastern was carrying passengers into and out of Vero Beach. In 1935, airmail service was added, and Vero Beach became the smallest little airport in Florida to have airmail service. The Chamber of Commerce was still much involved in the airport. To assure that the airmail service was not withdrawn, the chamber made sure that promotional brochures and advertising folders went out on each flight.

With the outbreak of World War II, both the Army and Navy were seeking airports for training bases. The Army was familiar with the airfield because of the encampment of the Army Air Corps but it was the Navy who finally won out.

Aerial view of original 100-acre Vero Beach Airport. McAnsh Park residential development in foreground with Victory Boulevard.
Aerial view of original 100-acre Vero Beach Airport. McAnsh Park residential development in foreground with Victory Boulevard.

The 100-acre acquired by the Town in 1929 soon was expanded to over a 1,000 acreage with barracks, a three-story terminal, hangers, storage buildings, and specialty building. One of these specialty buildings was a photo lab where aerial photography was being refined. This state-of-the art procedure would the

Provision was made so the Eastern Airline services to the community was not interrupted. Both passenger and air mail continued.

Aerial view of barracks and buildings built by Navy in WWII.  Leased to Brooklyn Dodgers for spring training in 1948, now home to the Major League Baseball Jackie Robinson Training Center.
Aerial view of barracks and buildings built by Navy in WWII. Leased to Brooklyn Dodgers for spring training in 1948, now home to the Major League Baseball Jackie Robinson Training Center.

When the war ended, the Navy returned the original airfield and the entire enlarged airbase back to the city of Vero Beach. In just 20 years — 1929 to 1949 — the city of Vero Beach now had a full fledge airport, with barracks, buildings, runways and no tenants.

Immediately, the city, with assistance from the Chamber of Commerce, contacted with baseball teams seeking spring training facilities. In 1948, the Brooklyn Dodgers (now Los Angeles) leased the barracks and playing fields for spring training. Today, the Vero Beach Airport is a regional airport and Dodgertown is leased to Major League Baseball as the Jackie Robinson Training Center. Piper Aircraft and numerous small businesses call this former cow pasture home.

Historical Marker for U.S. Naval Station at Vero Beach
Historical Marker for U.S. Naval Station at Vero Beach

For more history on historic places and events in Indian River County, visit the web site for the Indian River County Historical Society and click on Video Library.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Florida history: Vero Beach Regional Airport on the Treasure Coast

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