Located in St. Joseph, Missouri, Rosecrans Memorial Airport is located on a field that was once better known as the “French Bottoms.” The northern part of the French Bottoms was settled in the 1830s-50s and has since washed away due to the many floods over the years. The area was aptly named as the original settlers were French descendants. The airport gets its name from the only St. Joseph airman killed during World War I, Sgt. Guy Wallace Rosecrans.
Rich Missouri River bottom soil deposits had originally formed this land and property that provided the airport’s foundation. The same earth has provided several “Mother Nature” boundary revisions via “Great Floods” over the years. The rich soil, totaling about five thousand acres was traditionally used for farming and there are still some seasonal crops surrounding this airfield. The first Rosecrans Field was founded in 1922 at Lake Contrary with the second version located on waterworks road. This location was short-lived, due to the modest size and its dangerous closeness to the Missouri River bluffs. It was clear that a new location for a growing aviation base was needed.
The new Rosecrans was built in 1939 airport as a true municipal airport. Two 3,000′ long runways were poured together with an aircraft hangar situated east of the runway intersection. The government created an Army Air Forces base in St. Joseph with numerous enhancements being made during World War II between 1942 and 1943. The angled runways were doubled in length as well as a 5,500′ north-south runway was assembled, while the aircraft parking apron and many temporary buildings, including Hangar T-1020, were assembled. Airport construction in this period consisted of pump house buildings and hangars in 1949-1950 and a terminal and administration building completed in 1951-1952.
The “Great Flood” of 1951 damaged many “temporary” World War II airport buildings beyond economic repair. The Missouri River changed course during this flooding, cutting off the airport from its physical property connected to the city of St. Joseph, MO. The Missouri River cutoff changed parts of Bon Ton Bend and St. Joseph Bend and forever (until Mother Nature decides otherwise) divided the city from the airport. This unwanted geographical change did provide one benefit in that the “cutoff” offered some amazing new fishing spots for local anglers. Today, ground travel visitors from Missouri must go through Kansas via Elwood, Kansas, and the Pony Express Bridge in order to get to the airport.
The last scheduled commercial airline service in the airport was in 1969. The end was near for commercial flights three years prior to the launch of Kansas City International Airport (MIC), 30 miles south of downtown St. Joseph via Interstate I-29. Rosecrans, over time, has continued to adapt and is still used regularly for general aviation, agricultural crop spraying, charter passenger, and freight.
The “Great Flood” of 1993 ruined many aircraft, the “Cockpit Cafe” as well as the City Administration Building. Both were reconstructed in due time. After the water receded, work went into reconstructing the landing strip for the Air National Guard Runway 13-31 in 1994. Further improvements were completed by adding a VFR runway for small aviation aircraft, a new hangar, as well as a fresh fixed-base operator building, were also built. The main use of the airport now is a base for the 139th Airlift Wing of the Missouri Air National Guard.
Should your air travels take you through the Midwest via private aircraft, Rosecrans Airport offers the advantage of overly generous runways and small-town service. Enjoy courteous, dependable, and fast fuel service after touching down on the 8,061′ primary runway or 4,800′ secondary airstrip when crosswinds are prevalent. If the runway can land a C-130 Hercules, they should be able to handle your aircraft! 😉 There are some very nice planes in the hangars and most will enjoy telling you all about their aircraft and St. Joseph, Missouri travel news and aviation history. Hopefully, the cafe will stay in business as they have provided some tasty meals for many pilots over the years. Safe Travels!