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Van Orin airport remembered

VAN ORIN — A final piece of Illinois airport history will be taken down in the coming months.

Chuck Fischer said a Van Orin airport designation pole, along with a nearby corncrib, some trees and a fence, will be taken down to clear space for more farmland. The rural Van Orin airport, which closed about 70 years ago, was located about one-half mile east of Van Orin and just north of Route 92. The remaining pole is located on property currently owned by his mother, Fischer said.

From what he’s been told, the rural Van Orin airport was used as a stopping place as needed for government planes traveling between Chicago and the Quad Cities. The runway was about one-half mile long. It’s unknown if the runway was concrete or just dirt.

The remaining pole represents the last known piece of the government-operated airport, which Fischer remembers being used in the 1940s when he was a boy. An old photograph shows an airport hanger, small office building and a tower, all of which have been taken down. On the roof of the office building was the name of the town, and possibly the airport, “Van Orin.”

Fischer said the airport pole stands at least 60 feet tall and is marked with spikes every few feet upward, apparently used for climbing the pole as needed to take care of the red light at the top of the pole. The bottom of the pole still shows signs of an orange paint which had apparently marked the pole when the airport was in operation. The pole is not as steady as it once was, and the nearby corncrib is deteriorating as well.

Though his memories are few of the airport itself, Fischer said he does remember as a little boy seeing the airport hanger and a small propeller plane. Also, the office building and tower remained in place for several years after the airport was closed.

Pam Lange, director of the Bureau County Historical Society Museum, said there is little information at the museum on the Van Orin airport, other than what was published on July 22, 1999, in a Bureau County Republican article on the history of Van Orin. According to the BCR article, Van Orin was home to the only government airport in Bureau County. The airport was on the main line for planes going from Chicago to the Quad Cities along the Mississippi River. Around 1847, prior to being used as an airport, the location was home to a United Brethren Church.

Years have passed since the closing of the rural Van Orin airport and it’s time for the remaining lot on which the airport pole stands to be cleared and expanded into the adjoining cornfield. But, he will keep a section of the pole as a memento of the airport that once operated just outside of Van Orin, Fischer said.

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