The Stranded Airport

On January 7, 2010 · 5 Comments

The Twelve Mile Circle has a fascination with little chunks of land stranded on the "wrong" sides of rivers that occur when waterways change course. Usually this happens when severe flooding digs a new channel through a gradually sloping area of relatively soft soil.

I noticed just such a spot in St. Joseph, Missouri awhile ago and I’ve finally had an opportunity to explore it a little further. I won’t spend a great deal of time on the significance of the larger concept. I’ve already covered it several times previously with places such as Kaskaskia, DeSoto Point, and Carter Lake. Nonetheless it’s a neat little anomaly that’s probably worth noting because of the feature that exists on that stranded plot of land: an airport!

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Rosecrans Memorial Airport was named in honor of Guy Wallace Rosecrans, a military airman from St. Joseph who was killed in World War I ("struck by a propeller while helping a fellow aviator start his airplane"). This was actually the third St. Joseph airport named in his honor and its construction dates to 1939. The Great Flood of 1951 changed the course of the Missouri River, cutting off the airport from the rest of St. Joseph. The old watercourse became an oxbow that they named Browning Lake. A more complete history can be found on the airport website.

Usually when I observe these phenomena I wonder why the two parties don’t simply reconfigure the border to match the new path for the sake of convenience. That never happens. In this case though, I think St. Joseph was perfectly justified to hang onto its airport. It’s a little more substantial than the minor patches of swamp or farmland that usually switch sides.

Commercial airlines haven’t served this airport since the 1960’s but visitors flying in on private planes consider it a good option. They face much less air traffic than they would experience at nearby Kansas City International. They don’t have to pay a landing fee either. People use it fairly regularly — check out the live flight tracking on FlightAware. It also serves as a base for the Missouri Air National Guard’s 139th Airlift Wing.

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Crossing Back into Missouri at Rosecrans Memorial Airport

Travelers leaving the City of St. Joseph by automobile have no choice but to leave their home state to get to their local airport. This isn’t much of an imposition in reality. The detour through Kansas lasts only about four miles and it’s not like there are any border restrictions. They didn’t even put up a sign at the state border leading up to the airport entrance.

I also loved the thought of a Missouri Air National Guard base located behind "enemy" lines. Well, maybe only minor rivals perhaps, but it still struck me as funny.

On January 7, 2010 · 5 Comments

5 Responses to “The Stranded Airport”

  1. Joshua says:

    You should check out Marble Hill neighborhood in NYC. It’s attached to the Bronx (mainland), but part of New York County (Manhattan).

  2. Jesse says:

    Great post.

    @Joshua: that’s one of my favorite bits of New York trivia.

    • Many thanks to Joshua for pointing that out. Maquest shows county lines and it appears readily once one drills down.

      I was totally unfamiliar with the website, Forgotten New York, and I must admit I’ve spent most of the evening checking it out.

  3. Joshua says:

    I was trying to post the Mapquest map, but it’s instructions for embedding it didn’t work so well. Forgotten New York is one of my favorite websites. Lately it’s been updated about once a week with a main article and 2 Slices. It’s changed the way I look around my city, even though I’ve lived here in NYC most of my life.

  4. Stephanie says:

    I love this stuff!! Thanks, all, for the fun info!

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