The land on which Barkley Regional Airport sits is actually the site of the third airport that the city of Paducah has called home, though it is also the only one to have commercial interstate service. The airport was formed almost as a direct result of the start of World War II even though the Greater Paducah Association had been laboring feverishly to get Paducah a true municipal airport since 1938. It wasn’t until 1941 that the tireless efforts of then Senate Majority Leader Alben Barkley, convinced the Civil Aeronautics Association and War Department to give the Green light and approve the founding of what would be called the Paducah-McCracken County Airport. The site, a former farm made for a very meager beginning for Paducah's new airport. Inititally, the airport was used primarily by the military, but as time progressed that changed. A house on the airport property was moved and used as a temporary administration building. The Kentucky Institute of Aeronautics built a hangar on the site at a cost of $18,000 as well as an office.
The ground was improved and a fence was erected around the perimeter of the property as well. It would be five years before the first ever commercial airplane would land in Paducah. On April 1, 1946, Chicago and Southern Airlines landed in Paducah from Memphis on its way to Detroit, Michigan. C&S which was later bought by Delta Airlines, connected Paducah with Houston, New Orleans, Chicago as well as Detroit and Memphis with their airline service. In a ceremony on August 14, 1949, the airport was renamed Barkley Field in honor of the now former Vice President, since he was responsible for its founding. With Barkley Airfield, Paducah marked its place on the map, and was a city ahead of its time. Paducah was one of the first cities its size to have an airport, and at the time, was one of only 400 airports in the country to have commercial air service.
Also in those first years, there were no lights, which meant no night-time operations at Barkley Airfield. In fact, the airport’s first lighting system was installed by the U.S. Army, but in 1948, the lights came in the form of “smudge pots” which were used to light the runways so that planes could take off and land after dark . But the economics and unreliability of this system soon caused their use to be abandoned and with grants from the city, state, and federal government totaling $20,000 a new system was installed and has been continuously upgraded over the years in accordance with FAA regulations. Now the airfield is served with thousands of lights that mark its runways, taxiways, and approaches, a far cry from a long time ago.
The core of the current terminal building was built in the 1955 and has been added on to twice since, but renovated many times on an as needed basis. The back wall of the original building is the left side of the baggage claim area and went all the way across the length of the rest of the terminal. The latest modifications were to the baggage claim area, and the gate area, which came in the late 1990's and 2002 respectively. For a more detailed account of the early days of Barkley Field/ Barkley Regional Airport.