EAA Chapter 22

Cottonwood Airport, Rockford, IL


 Brief History of Cottonwood Airport...A Partner of EAA Chapter 22
by Lew Moon

May 22, 1997 marks the 50th year of Cottonwood Airport. James and George Summer made the application for an airport on May 1, 1946. The county board approved an airport 2 miles west of the city limits on August 6, 1946. It would have a 2640' north-south runway and 2300' east-west runway. This included 86 acres of land in all. The certificate was issued to Hanah Bell Smith May 22, 1947.

Almost every pilot who learned to fly an airplane during the next 30 years would have had some contact with Cottonwood and with Vince Block. Vince managed or owned the airport off and on during these years. The ownership of the land changed hands several times and the airport changed often from non-use, to restricted, to public use until his death in December 1976. Most of this time it was an active training field for new pilots. Auburn High School was built in 1960.

Other names that figured in the development of this history are, RH. Patten, Matti Tainio, West side business men, Bernice Nelson (Vince’s Daughter) and Chuck Thomas. The early members and founders of the chapter were at home at this pilot friendly grass roots airport. Roy Bowers, Lynn Stephanson and Frank Murray built the famous 3/4 Jenny and all of its flights were made from here. Frank not only flew the Jenny from here but he managed the airport for a time. That early group of EAAers held their annual corn boil or picnics at Cottonwood.

When Vince died, Jim Fraley assumed his remaining block time. He then became the airport manager in 1977. Jim and his family became the owners of the 40 acres that is now the present airport. They began building the Dome in 1978. The Dome was finished in 1980. The Fraleys went out of business and the property was sold at auction on December 12, 1984 to Ed Godlewski. It was unattended for the next year.

During this time several EAA members had airplanes and hangars at the Hononegah airport at the corner of highway 51 and Rockton Road in Roscoe. Seth Atwood, the owner decided to close that airport for tax reasons. The list of pilots at that little airport read like the who's who of chapter 22. Almost all of them at one time or another were to become Frank Murray award winners. Most of this group moved their airplanes to Cottonwood, when that airport closed, during the spring of 1981. Tom, Gil, Herman and Bob started to build the Green hangar in 1980. Gene Selchow built the red hangar and Jim Sieble, Gordy Wiegle and Karl Neiderman became partners. Several others tied their airplanes down outside or used the Yellow hangar that was operated by Ralph Hartwig. For a few years Elif was the FBO and for a couple of years Tito had Diamond Aviation here.

In June of 1985 The Cottonwood Corporation was formed in order to buy the airport and keep it from closing permanently. Tom, Gil and Herman with the help of others went out selling the concept of an airport owned by stockholders. They recruited eleven people willing to buy shares at $2,500 each to help raise $50,000 for the down payment. Over the years more were added until now we have 26 people who hold stock and most of them are also EAA Chapter 22 members.

It is fair to say that the people who own Cottonwood reflect the EAA. It is also true that the same spirit, purpose and ideals of the Chapter are synonymous with the Corporation. That is, the preservation of a historic grass strip that has meant so much to so many all these years.

The preservation, restoration and the building of airplanes. The fun of flying and sharing the flying experience.

Happy Birthday Cottonwood Airport.

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