Sampling History: Jackson County Airport Evolved from a Grass Field to International Status
January 22, 2014
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  • Jackson County’s airport history is an interesting one.

    Chris Wiggins’ book, “A Tale of Two (Mississippi) Cities,” gives a concise history.

    Referring to present-day Trent Lott International Airport in Moss Point, he writes:

    “Perhaps the ultimate accolade in life is to have something named after you, but few can claim that honor with an airport, much less one accepting direct international arrivals. In this regard Jackson County has bragging rights over Mobile, which has only a regional airport.

    “For those who have wondered about this apparent inequity, considering Mobile is much the larger city, the answer is this: for an airport to be designated with international status, it must offer customs service. This Trent Lott International does, thanks to Trent Lott, but Mobile does not.”

    Wiggins told how Jackson County’s association with the air industry dates back to the earliest years of air travel.

    “The Wright brothers’ historic first powered flight at Kitty Hawk was in 1903,” he wrote. “In less than twenty years, major technical advances allowed the airplane to play a significant, albeit, non-decisive role in World War I. When the war ended in 1918, a large number of surplus airplanes and pilots flooded the U.S. A fair number of pilots put their skills to work barnstorming across the country, a new form of spectator entertainment.”

    It turns out that the first Jackson County airport, a grass field located about where Singing River Hospital is now and next to the fairgrounds, became a stop on the barnstorming tour. Wiggins wrote that biplanes came and went here as early as the mid-twenties. Typically after barnstormers put on their show, the local folks, for a fee, could hop aboard for joy rides.

    “When World War II came the Army Air Force began training heavy bomber pilots at its Gulfport field,” Wiggins wrote. “Auxiliary fields were needed in case of in-flight problems, so the military built a hardtop field in the Bayou Casotte area. When the war ended the military field was sold to the county for $15,000 and became the new Jackson County airport.”

    Wiggins’ research further showed that the old grass field was abandoned, save for its hangars. And some of those sheet metal Quonset-type aircraft hangars from World War II days still exist near Pugh’s Floral Shop. “These buildings, which continue to be used, look unusual among today’s architecture and few passersby ever realize that they are the remains of the original airport,” he wrote.

    In conclusion, by the 1970’s the prevalence of business jets created the need for a longer landing strip. Since Bayou Casotte was being developed as an industrial area, the airfield there was as much in the way as anything. That field was scrapped and Trent Lott International Airport was constructed near the interstate highway.

    Copies of “A Tale of Two (Mississippi) Cities,” may be purchased at the Pascagoula Public Library Local Genealogy and History Department in paperback for $20 and hardback, $30.