Wilbur and Orville Wright opened the first airplane factory in the country in 1911 inside part of this building along Abbey Avenue in Dayton. The two buildings were duplicated and expanded for auto parts construction that ended with Delphi in 2008. Redevelopment of the historic buildings and surrounding 54 acres have progressed little since the site was cleared of other Delphi buildings in 2014. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Photo: Ty Greenlees
Photo: Ty Greenlees

Wright brothers airplane factory declared a National Park site

Dayton is home to yet another national park site after the factory where the Wright brothers first built their planes was added to the national historic registry.

The addition of the Wright Company Factory to the National Register of Historic Places on Sept. 9 brings with it two major benefits, said Kendell Thompson, superintendent of the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.

The first is that it could help groups like the National Aviation Heritage Area or other partners compete for grant funding to redevelop the site, Thompson said. The second is that the recognition adds “a layer of protection” that Thompson said will help to preserve the buildings.

“This is important from a strategic standpoint.” Thompson said. “It was a really important action to help preserve these buildings.”

Thompson credited NAHA and other community groups with helping to land the designation for the airplane factory buildings.

Wilbur Wright and Orville Wright built their first experimental airplanes in the back of their bicycle shop at 1127 W. Third St. In 1909, they then went on to form the Wright Company, which produced around 120 airplanes in 13 different models and introduced industrial aviation, according to NAHA.

Once the factory site is fully preserved and developed, it will add to the heritage park’s list of attractions, including the Wright Cycle Co. shop and the Paul Laurence Dunbar house, among others.

The designation brings to a head years of efforts from local and national leaders, including Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and author David McCullough.

The National Aviation Heritage Alliance, a local nonprofit, has sought to acquire the property to preserve two of the factory’s buildings and to use the site to build a new $10-million West Dayton library branch.

The plan is to build the new library by the intersection of U.S. 35 and Abbey Avenue, officials said. The library would occupy about 7.5 acres.

Last October the city of Dayton decided to purchase the 54-acre property for $1 million in order to help with the redevelopment process. It was one of the city’s largest real estate acquisitions on the west side in recent history.

Hundreds of people used to work at the Home Avenue site, which is also home to the world’s oldest airplane manufacturing facility. But the property has been vacant since Delphi shut down its plant a decade ago.

The National Park Service has received federal authorization to buy the Wright brothers hangars and was appropriated $450,000 for the transaction. The Park Service is “fully engaged in the acquisition process” and is “doing its due diligence” by conducting environmental tests of the site, Thompson said.

“There’s a lot of movement out there,” Thompson said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of great things happening at that site in the next year or so.”

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