It’s an important anniversary that almost passed unnoticed, if not for some fortunately-timed historical sleuthing: sixty years ago today, what’s now known as the Cullman Regional Airport cut the ribbon on the runway to welcome its first flight.
Thank current airport general manager Ben Harrison for recalling the almost-missed occasion. Moved in recent weeks to mine old newspapers and other documents for information about the airport’s history, he stumbled across an article in the Cullman Times Democrat — the newspaper predecessor of the one you’re reading now.
Dated Dec. 3, 1958, the article marked the airport’s dedication ceremony four days prior: Sunday, Nov. 30. Then, as now, the runway was named for the Alabama governor and Cullman resident whose picture appeared next to the story itself — Gov. James E. “Big Jim” Folsom, who was among the honoraries in attendance when Folsom Field opened its taxiway more than half a lifetime ago.
Because the rediscovery was such a last-minute find, Harrison said today’s airport staff hasn’t had the time to scramble together a proper event to commemorate the date. But, he promised, one’s coming.
“It’s kind of strange, but I just found out about this myself as I was digging through some old documents,” he said Thursday. “It’s such a late discovery, and there’s been no time to put anything together for the day of the anniversary itself. Plus, Friday already has other events scheduled, like the Christmas parade, that people have made plans for.
“But we’ll likely have some kind of ceremony for our 60th anniversary when the weather gets a little nicer, and I’m already looking into some other ways that we can recognize the anniversary throughout this coming year.”
The airport has seen incremental, evolutionary growth and improvement over the years, as Cullman County has grown and aviation itself has placed heavier demands on what a municipal-scale, regional airport should provide. But today’s airport owes its current viability, as well as its future, to the vision of local leaders who, more than a half-century ago, recognized the need for an airport that could connect this area with the outside business world.
“More than anything, the fact that 60-plus years ago, people had the foresight to see that we needed an airport for economic development and growth — that’s the biggest thing to recognize as we look back,” Harrison said. “There’s been a lot of help from our predecessors to get us to where we are now — especially when it comes to serving business and industry.”
With six decades under its belt, the airport forges ahead with planned and ongoing expansions, including the next phase in a project to widen the north taxiway in order to accommodate the larger turn radii of modern small jets. The original airport was designed with room to grow in mind, and Harrison says he’s confident it’ll still be serving the Cullman area, growth and all, in another 60 years.
“Those people sixty years ago laid a foundation so we could get to where we are now, where we’re able to grow and accept these larger corporate aircraft — heavier weights, bigger taxiways,” he said. “We’re tasked now with maintaining what they gave us so that, in another sixty years, we’ll continue to grow and evolve, to support he businesses that will need the airport at that time.
“But there are people to thank today as well,” he added. “It’s up to us to keep the airport growing, and we could not do it without the support of the Cullman City Council, the Cullman County Commission, the Airport Board, as well as ALDOT Aeronautics and the FAA.”
That’s a long list, but the airport itself attests to the success of the formula that’s kept it in operation all along. Watch the skies in the months to come, for news of more commemorative events to celebrate 60 years of flight in Cullman County.