The town of Jacksonville is rarely associated with the practice of aviation let alone its own local airport. Located just north of town, Jacksonville’s Municipal Airport is not what most people picture when they hear the word “airport”; its facilities are much smaller than a large metropolitan airports, receiving much less traffic from much smaller aircrafts. But Jacksonville’s airport is much more than just a site to land and take off, it is a meeting place for all of the town’s pilots – a place with its own communal character. And what most people don’t know, is that it is not the first and only airport in Jacksonville’s history.
For a period of close to twenty years, between the early 1930s and the late 1950s, a different airport, privately owned and managed by the late Fred Wharton, served not only as Jacksonville’s site for aviation, but also as the social gathering site for local pilots. The only remnants of Wharton’s airfield, which at the time was known as the Jacksonville Airport, survive in the form of a handful of photographs, a few newspaper articles, and in the memories of Joena Meier, who spent the majority of her childhood at the old airport, located just south of town.
Meier, still a licensed pilot today, grew up around planes in the 40s and 50s, as both her mother and father were licensed pilots following World War II.
“My parents actually met out at the airport,” Meier said, “my dad got his license in the early 1940s and was active in the civil air patrol during World War II, and my mother was attending MacMurray College and she also joined the civil air patrol, and, in the 1960s, my mother was actually the first woman in Morgan County to obtain a pilot’s license”
On weekends, a number of local pilots would gather at the old airport for food, fun, and the occasional flight. Meier recalls long flights, like the one she took to Cheyenne, Wyoming, as well as short flights to places like Springfield for something as simple as lunch. Located amongst the airfield, Wharton’s also had an old-fashioned snack shop, where many of the flying families would socialize among one another. It was this comradery that Meier cherishes the most.
“A typical Saturday or Sunday afternoon, particularly on Sundays, people would just go out there and just sit around and visit, maybe play cards, cook hamburgers, or maybe someone would suggest flying over to Springfield, so we’d all get in and fly around,” said Meier, “…just any excuse to fly.”
With the passing of former owner Fred Wharton in the early 1990s, Meier was able to procure many of the old photographs taken at the airport back in the 40s and 50s. The pictures reveal the dozens of spectators who would gather to watch the take offs and landings of the old private planes. In fact, Meier still flies a 1948 Stenson aircraft, the last plane her parents owned. Now that the original Jacksonville Airport is gone, Meier utilizes the current municipal airport.
“It was just a great way to grow up, we had a lot of fun out there,” Meier said of her childhood memories at the old airport, “I’m happy that the current airport has that sort of comradery now. It’s really become fun again.”