I just came back from the Arkansas Airport Operations Association (AAOA) conference, held between September 15 and 17 in Eureka Springs. On the 16th, June Westphal, a very sweet local and historian, talked about the history of the town of Eureka Springs and its aviation story. I wanted to share a summary of it with you, especially for those who live in or close to this beautiful little town. I would also like to encourage you to study the history of your own airport and aviation. I am personally trying to find out more about a small general aviation (GA) airport who used to be in Texas City, TX, where my husband’s family used to run the Airport Drive-in and Grill.
Eureka Springs was not named as such until July 4, 1879, where “Eureka” means “I’ve found it!” It was named that because Eureka Springs is known as the “city that water built” after finding the “healing springs” in town (where Basin Springs is today). The name was chosen by Buck Saunders, a young man who encouraged and brought his dad (Judge Saunders) to town to receive the special healing treatment to cure his illness.
The aviation history in Eureka Springs goes back to 1919 when the first sighting of an aircraft was recorded in Carroll County (this is only 16 years after the Wright Brothers invented, built, and flew the first successful controlled, powered aircraft).
Then 66 year old Buck Saunders asked to be flown over town in 1929 to take pictures of the old “road” he used to bring his dad to town for treatment 50 years earlier. A pilot took him flying in a Curtiss Jenny biplane. Those pictures created the first aerials of Eureka Springs. It appears Buck Saunders was quite a travel and airplane buff, too.
In 1930, the City of Eureka Springs purchased land for a landing strip. This is now the Carroll County Airport (4M1). On July 4 of that same year, a huge fly-in was held at the Airport where dozens of aircraft participated and celebrated Independence Day.
Another airport, the Lake Lucerne Airport, was built in 1930 but, unfortunately, it closed about 30 years later for housing.
Just a couple of years later, in 1932, a pilot flew into town and his airplane broke down. The best car mechanic in town (given the lack of A&Ps) fixed the airplane and, rather than charging the pilot for his services, he asked him to take local kids up flying. One of those kids was the mechanic’s niece, Anna Frankman. The then 10 year old loved the experience and, when the opportunity came up to apply to serve the military during World War II, she applied. Ms. Frankman was one of about 1,100 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who ferried and tested airplanes so male pilots could head to combat duty.
It is quite interesting to see how history repeats itself (closing an airport to build housing, for example) and how attracting people to aviation is still quite similar to how it used to be years ago (pilots taking kids up). Therefore, I encourage you to continue supporting and fighting for your airport and showing its value to your local community and elected officials as well as continue to share the great joy of flying with non-aviators and kids.