Aviation in Madison County was no stranger when Welch Field opened in 1929. It had been 26 years since the Wright Brothers initial flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. but in that time interest in flying had mushroomed all over the World and Madison County was no different.
Before the Welch field, at least two airfields were operating in our county in the 1920s. The first was located on old Ind. 67, five miles south west of Anderson. It was a private field operated by Nimrod E. Keesling. The grass field was located where Freed’s Village is today. Except for a hangar little else is known about the Keesling Airport. The Yellow Kitchen barbecue operated by Mrs. Ethel Keesling was adjacent to the unlighted field.
The other airfield was called the Anderson Aircraft Company. Organized in 1924, the company was founded by an aviation pioneer named Fred Parker who, along with his family, moved to Anderson that same year.
The field was located in what we know today as South Edgewood. It was situated in the area between Park Road (then nicknamed the Airport Road) on the east and Central Way on the west. The north-south boundaries were roughly today’s Redwood and Oakwood Drives.
In addition to the airfield, the company had 11 usable planes, a design room, and one Lawson passenger airliner. It was here that Orin Welch first appeared in Anderson in 1927 taking the job of manager. Originally from Ohio, the 21 year-old had been flying for only four years.
A year later he owned the company and became involved in the manufacture of airplanes. It was here that he built his first plane, the one he named “Miss Anderson.”
He also taught men and women to fly at his Orin Welch Aviation School. The school was well known and respected all across America. However, he was not the first to build or fly an aircraft in the county.