Amazing as this might sound, the buildings from America’s very first purpose-built aircraft factory still stand, and a group in Dayton, Ohio is seeking to preserve them. The two structures pictured above date from roughly 1910/1911, and were an integral part of the nascent Wright Company, established by Wilbur and Orville Wright in 1909. According to a recent press release, “the National Park Service has identified the buildings as the first in America built for the purpose of producing airplanes. Adding the factory to the national park’s other five units would complete the story of the Wright brothers’ lives and their invention, development and commercialization of the airplane in Dayton.
The National Aviation Heritage Alliance (NAHA) is currently evaluating whether it can raise the necessary capital to acquire the Wright brothers’ factory site. The campaign’s goal is to secure the two historic Wright Company factory buildings and surrounding property for future use as a unit of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. The site is a part of the former Delphi Home Avenue automotive parts manufacturing plant.
NAHA launched the study on the heels of another positive development: Ohio’s approval of $250,000 for the project in its state capital budget. Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed the budget bill on April 1st. The state capital funding has importance beyond the dollars themselves, said Frank Winslow, chairman of NAHA’s board of trustees.“It validates the project as important not only to us, but to the state of Ohio,” he said. “It will clearly help our philanthropic fundraising. ”The 20-acre historic parcel also includes three attached buildings of matching style and land suitable for redevelopment. NAHA envisions a wide range of potential uses for the property that would complement the Wright factory. Some examples are science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education programs, aviation education and training, aerospace research and possibly light aircraft or unmanned air vehicle production.
In addition to the historic parcel, the study will evaluate the feasibility of acquiring the remaining 34 acres that make up the former Delphi plant for commercial or industrial redevelopment.“These adjacent parcels would be especially suited to an aviation or aerospace manufacturer that sees value in tying its brand to the birthplace of America’s aerospace industry,” said Tony Sculimbrene, NAHA’s executive director.
Demolition of the old Delphi manufacturing buildings has progressed rapidly over the past year with the aid of a $3 million Clean Ohio Fund grant and additional private investment. The site’s owner, Home Avenue Redevelopment LLC (HAR), expects demolition to be complete by the end of June. Brownfields redeveloper Hull & Associates Inc., which formed HAR for the project, has worked closely with the National Park Service, the City of Dayton and NAHA to redevelop the site for commercial and industrial use while preserving the historic Wright Company buildings.
“We are extremely fortunate to be working with a redevelopment company that recognizes and appreciates the historic value of these buildings,” Winslow said.
Even though Delphi put in a steam plant some decades ago which truncated these historic buildings somewhat, they still form a vital part of the world’s aviation heritage, and must be saved!