The Liberty Gazette
October 21, 2008
October 21, 2008
The View From Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street Ely
Linda: Not long ago I heard someone say there’s never really been any business at the Liberty Airport. But thanks to the superior research skills of Kevin Ladd, articles from the Vindicator, and help from Patti Atkins, we are able to recount some of the history of the Liberty Municipal Airport.
Fifty years ago Earl Atkins acquired 58 acres of land from Liberty banker, Benny Rusk, and created what would become the Liberty Municipal Airport. Earl had been operating his flying service on that property prior to acquiring it from the Rusks, and even long before Earl Atkins came along crop dusters used what was then just a grass and dirt strip to serve the local rice farmers. Atkins Flying Service offered flight training, crop dusting, aircraft sales, charter service, and anything else he could do with an airplane.
Earl knew how to manage an airport, and following several years of successful aviation business in Liberty, Earl gave the airport to the City.
Ironically, as we read the news from yesteryear, we discover people were saying back then what we’ve been saying: the Liberty Airport has so much potential to serve the community with economic benefits. At one time, the airport was on the official priority list of both the City and the Chamber of Commerce. So what’s happened?
Mike: Folks who have lived here a long time recall seeing an air show here. As far as we can tell the first one was in 1969 and was sponsored by the Civil Air Patrol. The following year, when Atkins gifted the airport to the City, an official dedication ceremony brought another air show, with performances by aerobatic pilots, parachute jumpers, sail planes. People brought their own lawn chairs and the city served up a great barbeque for the event. Then Earl moved to the Valley, and Huey Crouch took over the airport for awhile, but it was now a public asset and soon the airport seemed to take a back seat to other city functions. The Liberty CAP disbanded and the squadron moved to Baytown because support for the airport here dwindled. Earl married Patti in 1986 and visited the Liberty area often. In 1991 they rallied to help the City’s struggling airport, organizing a dedication and air show which fit nicely with Earl’s surprise 70th birthday party. They brought in vintage aircraft, parachute jumpers, and hosted tours of the renovated airport. New hangars had been built and the runway was extended to its current length of 3,800’.
Unfortunately for Liberty, with the choices to let the airport go without proper maintenance, and not encourage aviation business, the airport again began to fall into disrepair, often being called a “rich boys’ playground,” not worthy of the City’s investment. We see the airport as anything but that. We see the potential for this great asset to be used to benefit the community. Communicating that conviction has been a challenge, but we are pleased to report that the project to restore lighting to the runway is underway, which will improve safety at the airport. It’s an important step.
See you next week for more history on the Liberty Airport. Till then, blue skies.
Mike and Linda can be reached at Texasavi8r@aol.com.