The aircraft factory built by the Wright brothers is damaged by fire in Ohio

A fire that broke out at a housing complex in Dayton, Ohio on Sunday damaged a factory founded by Wilbur and Orville Wright, the brothers who became the first to successfully fly an airplane.

The fire calls into question the future of the factory, where the brothers built planes from the 1910s. It became part of the National Park Service group of aviation-related sites in Dayton in 2009.

The factory is a monument not only to the brothers and their subsequent invention, but also to the role of major industrialists of the time in ushering in the era of commercial aviation. The factory was built shortly after Wilbur Wright visited New York in 1909 and “was taken over by the Vanderbilts, the Colliers, JP Morgans, people like that,” said Dean Alexander, who was the superintendent. from the park service in Dayton when the site was added.

The Dayton Fire Department said it is investigating the cause of the fire, which started at 2:28 a.m. Sunday and damaged the roof and interior of buildings in the complex. No one was injured, the department said.

But for many locals who are proud of the city’s role in the development of aviation, the fire has left a veil. “I was there yesterday watching them put out the fire,” said Stephen Wright of Dayton, the brothers’ great-grandnephew. “People were expressing their sadness to see something like this burning.”

The Wright Company factory was being developed by its owner, the City of Dayton, and other groups who sought to preserve its history. The building complex includes two buildings that the Wright brothers erected in 1910 and 1911, which were the first factory in the United States built for the manufacture of aircraft, as well as newer buildings.

The restoration of these buildings was part of a larger improvement project in West Dayton where the loss of industry and the economic downturn of recent decades have left neighborhoods around the factory riddled with shuttered homes. The $12 million Dayton Metro Library, located next to the factory, was among those plans. It opened last year.

The Wright brothers were from Dayton and formed the Wright Company in 1909, according to the National Aviation Heritage Area, a nonprofit organization that manages more than 15 historic aviation sites in Dayton, including the factory complex.

In December 1903, the brothers became the first to fly an airplane at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The brothers then refined their aircraft, the Wright Flyer, for several years before making the first public flights in August 1908, dazzling crowds and ushering in the age of aviation, according to the National Air and Space Museum.

The Wright company produced about 120 aircraft in 13 models before the factory was sold. Since the factory was built, the site has changed hands several times and has been used for decades to manufacture auto parts.

The City of Dayton purchased the property in October 2018. The following year, the Wright Company factory was officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Last year, the Dayton City Commission authorized the use of more than $1.4 million to preserve the site, including plans for a museum created in partnership with the National Park Service.

As a historic site, the plant has welcomed “hundreds, if not thousands” of people for tours with helmets, said Mackensie Wittmer, executive director of the National Aviation Heritage Area in Dayton.

Ms Wittmer said the buildings’ previous owners were aware that two of the buildings were part of the Wright brothers’ legacy and that the changes they made to the facilities did not alter the ‘historic integrity’ of the space , including wooden roof and supporting structure.

“If you look at historical images available either at the Library of Congress or in the special collections and archives of Wright State University and you see images of the Wright company factory, that’s what it’s all about. looks like,” she said.

Historic sites linked to the Wright Brothers and buildings bearing their name dot the city.

“Dayton is known as the birthplace of aviation, but we continue to be an aviation and aerospace city, it’s our industry,” Ms. Wittmer said. “It’s been part of who we have been for over 120 years.”

At the same time that the factory became part of the National Park Service, the agency added Orville Wright’s house to the park. Mr. Wright is a frequent guest when the house, called Hawthorn Hill, is open to the public.

“There are a fair amount of pent up requests to see Hawthorn Hill. I guess the plant will have the same draw for people,” Mr. Wright said. “We hoped the factory site and new library would infuse the area with visitors and help revitalize this part of Dayton. I’m still hoping they can assess the factory structures and bring them back to a state that will allow it.

When firefighters arrived, the flames had pierced the roof and were so intense they could not enter the building. The blaze wasn’t fully extinguished until Sunday night, Dayton Fire Department Capt. Brad French said, and crews continued to check the smoldering debris Monday for hot spots, Capt. Brad French said. from the Dayton Fire Department.

The City of Dayton said in a statement that project partners were “saddened” by the fire and would convene a meeting to discuss future redevelopment of the property.

“Despite more than 100 years of heavy use, the Wright Company factory still had most of its original wooden roof, windows and other historic fabrics intact,” said Kendall Thompson, the current superintendent of parks in Dayton. “We are working with our partners to assess the damage to this irreplaceable resource.”


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