Friday, December 25, 2020

Wings over Venice, Florida, helped with tourism and local commerce

When Venice was founded in 1926, visitors arrived by train, car and boat.

Within a decade, air travel featured prominently in the city’s growing vitality.

“It’s hard to imagine that barely three decades after the Wright brothers made their historic flight, aviation here in Venice was already becoming established,” said Clarke Pressley, president of the Venice Area Historical Society and a knowledgeable source on local aeronautical history. “A pivotal point in that evolution occurred with the creation of the first municipal airport.”

Although an emergency landing strip existed as early as 1927, the first recorded landing in Venice occurred on Jan. 13 of that year when pilot George Haldeman landed his open cockpit biplane on Nassau Street with a crate of fresh strawberries for guests of the Hotel Venice.


In 1935, a joint effort between the Civil Aeronautics Authority (precursor to the Federal Aviation Administration) and the Works Project Administration began construction of a grass-strip runway to serve the fledging community. The runway began just south of Venice Avenue and ended near what was then the city’s municipal golf course.

The area today is where the Intracoastal Waterway is located behind Venice High School. The land was donated by Dr. Fred Albee, famed orthopedic surgeon and himself an amateur pilot who was responsible for developing much of the property in the Venice-Nokomis area.

Concrete markers were added in January 1936 to identify the sod runway as more than just an emergency landing strip. A hangar with space for planes, offices, a flying school and repair shop were completed just three years later.

By 1939, Venice was continuing to recover from the Depression and the establishment of an airport promised economic opportunity. Although the airport had been known by other names such as the “Venice Municipal Airport” and “Downtown Airport,” the facility was formally dedicated on Jan. 23 as the Fred Albee Municipal Airport.


The Venice Flying Club was also formed in 1939 and consisted of local flying enthusiasts and an instructor, H.J. “Doc” Chiddix, who provided courses on navigation, meteorology, maps, and map reading. James Darby served as the club’s first president.

Other founding members included such notables as Helga Roess-Siede, Venice’s city clerk from 1930 until 1952, local businessman George Hauser, and his daughter, Betty Hauser-Arnall, who would go on to become the city’s first historian. James Cousins, the son of former mayor Mitt Cousins and the older brother of philanthropist Julia Cousins-Laning, learned to fly at the airport, would serve as an instructor for RAF pilots in Florida during World War II, and later flew jets for Eastern Airlines.

Albee recognized the advantage of having an airport nearby. He had purchased the former Park View Hotel, current site of the Post Office on Venice Avenue, in 1933 and converted it into an orthopedic hospital where his patients could rest and recuperate. He paid for his nephew, Steve Albee Jr. to take flying lessons and purchased a five-passenger Stinson Reliant airplane the young man could use to shuttle patients from all over the western hemisphere to his uncle’s medical center.

Glenn Stephens, a lifelong resident of Venice, was a young teenager during the airport’s heyday and remembers all of the activity that took place there. “Pilots would fly in for various airshow events, crop dusters would use the field, and then the members of the aviation club had their airplanes. Planes would be stacked up everywhere. It was a real hub of activity.”


In 1942, with America engaged in war with Germany, Army Colonel A.M. Nicholson landed at Albee Airport to look at property south of the city that might serve as a training base for pilots. The Venice Army Air Base was built on 1,660 acres of land there, sold to the government by Finn Casperson. After the war, the base was turned over to the City of Venice and converted to a civilian airport in 1946. The two airports co-existed until the mid-1950s when the Sarasota County School Board acquired the Albee Airport land to construct a new Venice High School on the property.

1 comment:

  1. Any info on a plane crash at O'Connor Field 8IL5 in Pecatonica?


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