Abandoned & Little-Known Airfields:

Northern Illinois

© 2004, © 2017 by Paul Freeman. Revised 6/11/17.

This site covers airfields in all 50 states: Click here for the site's main menu.



The IL pages of this website are sponsored by the The Illinois Pilots Association:

____________________________________________________



Please consider a financial contribution to support the continued growth & operation of this site.



Ottawa Airport / Skydive Chicago Airfield (revised 1/11/17) - Piper Airport (revised 9/15/16) - (Original) Rockford Airport / Machesney Airport (revised 6/11/17)

Starved Rock Airpark (revised 12/29/14) - Wagon Wheel Airport (revised 4/24/16)

____________________________________________________



Piper Airport (C41), Princeton, IL

41.37, -89.43 (West of Chicago, IL)

Piper Airport, as depicted on a 1949 aeronautical chart (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling).



According to the video “Piper Airport Princeton” (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling),

After the War [WW2] a farmer, Roger Piper, built an airport next to his farm, a mile east of town.

The May Brothers, Marvin, Melvin, and Walter, rented the airport in 1946.

They had 2 planes for training & rental plus Roger Piper's Cabin Waco for passenger flights.”



The earliest depiction which has been located of Piper Airport was on a 1949 aeronautical chart (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling).

It depicted Piper as a commercial/municipal airport having a 2,300' runway.



According to the video “Piper Airport Princeton” (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling),

In 1951 Melvin May left & became a civilian flight instructor for the Army.

Elmo Salsman was the Chief Flight Instructor for the Mays from 1951-83.”



The 1953 IL Airport Directory (courtesy of Lee Corbin) depicted Piper Airport as having 2 unpaved runways,

and 3 small buildings on the northwest side.



A 1953 Sectional Chart (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling) depicted Piper Airport as having a 2,400' unpaved runway.



The earliest photo which has been located of Piper Airport was an undated aerial view from the 1962 IL Airport Directory (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling).

It depicted Piper Airport as having 2 turf runways, measuring 2,500' north/south & 1,850' east/west.

Several hangars were depicted on the northwest side.

The manager was listed as Marvin May.



According to the video “Piper Airport Princeton” (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling),

Rental rates in 1964: Aeronca 7AC: $7/hr wet, Cessna 172 $12/hr wet.”



The 1966 USGS topo map depicted Piper Airport as having 2 unpaved runways, with 2 small buildings on the northwest side.



A 1953 Sectional Chart (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling) depicted Piper Airport as having a 2,500' unpaved runway.



According to the video “Piper Airport Princeton” (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling),

As of 1974, 1,000 students had soled from there. Many went on to aviation careers.”



A 1979 airport directory (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling) depicted Piper Airport as having 2 unpaved runways: 2,505' Runway 18/36 & 1,850' Runway 9/27.

Two small buildings were depicted on the northwest side.



According to the video “Piper Airport Princeton” (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling),

In 1983 Marvin retired & sold the operation to Marty Mart & Paul Swanson.

When they went out of business, the airport became private.”



The 1989 AOPA Airports USA Directory (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling) described Piper Airport

as a private-use airfield having a single 2,500' turf Runway 18/36.



The last aeronautical chart depiction which has been located of Piper Airport was on the 1994 Sectional Chart (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling).

It depicted Piper Airport as a private airfield, having a 2,000' unpaved runway.



According to the video “Piper Airport Princeton” (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling), “The airport... was razed in 1997.”



A 1998 aerial view showed the Piper Airport runways had been plowed over & reused for farming.



A 2015 aerial view showed no trace of Piper Airport, with the runways & airport buildings having been erased from the landscape.



The site of Piper Airport is located southeast of the intersection of Route 6 & South 9th Street.



Thanks to Jonathan Westerling for pointing out this airfield.

____________________________________________________



Starved Rock Airpark, Utica, IL

41.325, -89 (West of Chicago, IL)

Starved Rock Airpark, as depicted on the 1961 USGS topo map.



According to Bill Pagett, “This airport is both odd & unique - it was located on an island [Plum Island] in the Illinois River

and visitors to the Starved Rock State Park that flew in, had to take a cable car from the landing field across the river to the state park.”



In 1950 Starved Rock Air Park was issued a state charter to operate landing strip / air park on Plum Island opposite Starved Rock State Park.



However Starved Rock Airpark was not yet depicted on the 1958 USGS topo map.



The earliest depiction which has been located of Starved Rock Airpark was on the 1961 USGS topo map.



A 1961 photo of the cable car which brought visitors across the river to Starved Rock Airpark.



An August 1965 photo of the cable car which brought visitors across the river to Starved Rock Airpark for plane rides.



The earliest photo which has been located of Starved Rock Airpark was a 3/19/67 USGS aerial view.

It depicted Starved Rock as having a northwest/southeast grass runway which occupied most of the length of the island.

A few small buildings were located at the east end.



The 1968 Flight Guide (courtesy of Robert Levittan) depicted Starved Rock as having a 3,100' unpaved Runway 10/28.



Jeff Morris recalled, “I had an introductory flight at Starved Rock Airpark [in 1969].

I was 12 years old at the time & my parents made a stop here during a coast-to-coast automobile trip from Nova Scotia.

We must have camped at Starved Rock State Park & I was lucky that my folks gave me the opportunity for a short flight.”



The 1970 USGS topo map depicted Starved Rock Airpark as having a northwest/southeast unpaved runway, with a few small buildings at the east end,

along with the cable car connecting the island to the mainland.



In 1970 flood waters in the IL River forced closure of the aerial tramway connecting Plum Island & Starved Rock State Park.



The 1972 IL Airport Directory (courtesy of Bill Pagett) depicted Starved Rock as having a 3,100' northwest/southeast grass runway.



According to the book “Starved Rock State Park, The First 100 Years” by Mark Walczynski, aerial tours of the park were discontinued in 1975.



The last photo which has been located showing Starved Rock Airpark still in operation

was an undated aerial view from the 1978 IL Airport Directory (courtesy of Bill Pagett).

It listed the manager as Walter Hahn, and said that “Cable cars available to park summer months.”



The only aeronautical chart which has been located showing Starved Rock Airpark was on the 1979 Sectional Chart (courtesy of Bill Pagett),

which depicted Starved Rock as having a 3,200' unpaved runway.



According to Bill Pagett, “It closed sometime after 1979 as I did not find it listed in the 1980 Illinois [Airport] directory.

I made a huge mistake & landed on the grass runway after the airport had closed.

I did not call the phone number listed as we were already in the air & I just remembered it was there & we were on our way.

It was on a July 4th & my wife & I were flying around looking for someplace to just relax for the day.

We had packed a picnic lunch & we were looking for a country grass strip to land, have lunch, and just relax.

It could not have been long after the airfield closed as from the air, there were no 'closed' markings & the landing area looked to be maintained.

There were no radio advisories available.”



Bill continued, “Once committed to a landing, and settling in from the flare,

I realized that the grass that from the air that looked to be mowed, was brushing the underside of my Cherokee 140's wings.

Needless to say, our ground roll was dramatically shortened by the tall grass grabbing at the landing gear.

Thankfully, I had wheel pants or the stop would have been a bit quicker.

At the west end of the strip, and with more throttle than usual, I did a 180 to assess the problem I now had.

As I turned around, I saw 3 wheel tracks where the grass had been laid down by the landing gear.

I informed my wife of the huge error I had made & formulated a plan to taxi back-&-forth 3 or 4 times

to flatten a suitable path for us to beat a hasty departure into the prevailing winds.

We did so without attracting much attention from anyone across the water in the state park

and without fanfare, successfully departed a rather embarrassing situation.”



A local resident reported that “Mr. Pagett was not the only one to land on the Plum Island field after it was no longer in use.

Another pilot with his wife & children landed there safely. He swam across the Illinois River to the park & got assistance from park personnel & others.

There was an old tractor/mower on the island; they got it started & mowed an area for the pilot to take off from.

His family returned to their home by car while he flew the plane off the island.”



Plum Island was listed for sale again in 6/23/00.



As of 2/6/02, developer Don Barclay no longer planned to build a resort & conference center on Plum Island,

but instead envisioned luxury townhouses.



Later in 2002 the Village of Utica began annexation of Plum Island.



In a 12/29/11 photo looking northwest at the site of Starved Rock Airpark,

the photographer noted “some of the tree plantings on what had been the airstrip can be seen.”



A 5/23/13 aerial view looking west shows the site of the Starved Rock runway remains mostly clear,

and what may be the foundation of a former airpark building is visible at the lower-right.



A local resident reported in 2014, “The island has become a nature preserve & groups have gone out there in the past few years to clear it of debris & to plant trees.

There were a couple of private homes on the island for years at the east end but they have been removed since it became a nature preserve.

One of the residents had one of those Aqua Cars - a car/boat combination - for years & used it as transportation from the state park to the island.”



Thanks to Bill Pagett for pointing out this airfield.

____________________________________________________



(Original) Rockford Airport / Machesney Airport (KRMC), Machesney Park, IL

42.35, -89.054 (Northwest of Chicago, IL)

Rockford Airport, as depicted on a 7/3/39 IL State Geological Survey aerial view.



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “In June 1927 Fred Machesney came to the Rockford area

and acquired rights to a 55-acre tract of land & it eventually expanded to 160-acres.

It officially became the 'Rockford Airport' on 7/8/27 where it was high, a well-drained field,

and was comprised of 160 acres touching North 2nd Street / Road (east),

extending to the west along the Rock River, and making the airport accessible to seaplanes for a landing.

On the field there were 3 hangars, 60' square with a 14' clearance, capable of housing 12 standard airplanes.

Two additional smaller hangars provided space for 3 more aircraft. There was a workshop, classroom, and waiting room.”



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “It was Mr. Machesney’s thoroughness & unusual precautions on the part of each & every pilot that he employed

which enabled him to point with pride to a 'no accident' record during the 1928 flying season.

More & more people made use of the aircraft for transportation purposes.

Almost midway through the year, May 1928, Mr. Machesney took delivery of a 5-place Fairchild cabin plane, which included the pilot.

Mr. Machesney bought the plane to increase his passenger carrying capacity & his income.

Whether the travel was for pleasure, business or shopping trips to Milwaukee or Chicago,

it was now possible by means of the Fairchild Cabin Plane used by Mr. Machesney.”



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “The new aircraft was able to travel at a speed of 90 MPH under favorable conditions.

At this speed, travelers, shoppers, and businessmen were able to reach the Wisconsin metropolis, Chicago, or other distant cities in a remarkably short time.

During his career Fred Machesney flew more than 100,000 miles, quite a record for any pilot.

This moved the Rockford area manufacturers, businessmen, and salesmen into a position to compete with those of other cities

who already knew the value of the aircraft in exceeding the competition.

Also the same year new equipment was arriving on Machesney’s field from the newly formed Forest City Airways,

which operated out of the Blackhawk field, which they placed an Air King biplane, thus increasing Rockford’s passenger carrying air fleet to 4.”



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “Notably on 8/16/28 marked a 2nd flight attempt to Sweden from the Rockford Airport,

whereby the pilots were lost between August 18 & September 2, 1928 in Greenland.

They were safely returned to a warm reception on 10/18/28.”



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “When the air mail service was proposed for Rockford,

a revolving beacon was removed from atop the Rockford National Bank building, which was donated & installed at the airport.

It was used in connection with the flood lighting system installed from assistance by the aviation committee of the Rockford Chamber of Commerce.

Obstruction lighting was installed to mark hazards for pilots flying at night to mark the property boundaries.

Northwest Airways, Inc., who flew the mail in & out of the area put their stamp of approval on the airport in one visit (1930).

Fred Machesney was instrumental in getting airmail delivered to the area, which lasted from 1930-33.”



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “Some of the individuals who worked at the airport were:

Ralph Swaby, pilot, 1927. Howard Adams, mechanic, 1935, and pilot 1942.

R.S. Day, chief pilot & operations officer, 1940-49. B.W. 'Sandy' Sandberg, pilot & operations manager, 1934.

Chuck Kissel, chief pilot & flight examiner, 1942-52. Ray Bloomster, flight instructor & pilot, 1947-52.

Robert Miller, shop superintendent, civil aeronautics authority & aircraft inspector, 1943-52.”



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “Fred Machesney & Ralph Swaby, who was the first pilot Fred hired, were transport pilots.

He & Fred flew 800 hours, covered 60,000 miles, carried 3,600 passengers (short hops & cross country),

and they successfully took off & landed over 4,000 times.

The airport had 203 visiting aircraft & it became a favorite stopping place for flyers of the Army & Navy

who made hops from Chanute Field at Rantoul, and Great Lakes Naval Training Station at North Chicago.”



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “In 1930 Northwest Airlines expanded its passenger services to Elgin & Rockford,

routed to Machesney Field, which they had already approved as a route for airmail delivery with just one visit previously.”



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “In 1934, Fred went back to operating 3 or 4 planes & was doing most of the flying again.

Extra passenger work was being handled by 'Sandy' Sandberg & Pat Bailey.

In 1935 famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart visited Rockford & addressed the Woman's Club.”



The earliest depiction which has been obtained of Rockford Airport was a 7/3/39 IL State Geological Survey aerial view.

It depicted Rockford as having 3 grass runways, with a few small buildings (hangars?) along the east side.



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “Fred received a boost in the winter of 1939 when his airport, in co-operation with Beloit College,

instituted a Civilian Pilot Training Program with about 10 students in the first class.

This was followed by several classes being formed for pilots & instructors for Army primary schools,

and Army Air Corps cadet’s indoctrination training under the War Training Service in 1943.

The airport was a stop over spot for United States military planes heading over to the Sovit Union during World War II.

From 1939-43, 1,139 students in military service were trained at the Machesney Rockford Airport,

and an estimated 2,000 civilian students completed the training during the same time period.”



The earliest aeronautical chart depiction which has been located of Machesney Airport was on the July 1942 Milwaukee Sectional Chart,

which depicted Machesney as a commercial/municipal airport.



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “On 11/16/43, voters approved the formation of the Greater Rockford Airport Authority.

The law was later found unconstitutional, but the authority was approved & created 2 years afterward.”



A 10/5/45 USGS aerial view depicted Machesney Airport as having a roughly squared-shaped grass airfield

with several hangars & at least 3 single-engine aircraft along the east side.



The 1949 USGS topo map depicted “Machesney Landing Field”

as an irregularly-shaped area with several buildings along the east side.



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “In 1951, 237 charter passengers were carried on 143 trips

for a total of 55,155 passenger miles, as told by Fred Machesney.

There were 35 airplanes based at the Machesney Field, whereby Fred was operating 11 of them.

Freight handling aircraft flew 12,380 miles, transporting 10,828 pounds of cargo during 1951.

In January 1952, the total hours flown were 76,330, air miles estimated at 7,633,000

with more than 75,000 passengers carried by the planes that landed at the airport.”



Harold Bish recalled, “I instructed there in the 1950s.”



A 1962 aerial view looking west (courtesy of Michael Abernethy)

showed that Machesney Airport had gained several more rows of hangars at some point between 1945-62.

The outlines of 2 grass runways were visible on the airfield.



An undated (circa 1960s?) colorized aerial view looking west at Machesney Airport

depicted the field at perhaps its zenith of popularity,

with 17 single-engine aircraft visible parked outside, along with 5 hangars & other buildings.



According to Wikipedia, “A tornado in 1966 damaged hangars & aircraft at the airport.”



The 1968 Flight Guide (courtesy of Robert Levittan) depicted Machesney Airport as having 3 unpaved runways, with the longest being 3,250' Runway 5/23.



The last photo which has been located of Machesney Airport was a 10/7/70 USGS aerial view.

Three very distinct grass runways were visible.

But the airport appeared to be in a state of steep decline, as the 3 rows of T-hangars on the northeast side had been removed at some point between 1962-70,

and only a sole aircraft was visible parked outside.



According to Harold Bish, Machesney Airport “was the oldest longest operating Fixed Base Operator in the U.S.”



The 1973 USGS topo map depicted Machesney Airport as having 3 unpaved runways.



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “In 1974 with the continued decline of the Machesney Airport operations

it closed 20 years after the opening of the Greater Rockford Airport.”



However the 1977 USGS topo map continued to depict Machesney Airport as having 3 unpaved runways.



According to the Village of Machesney Park, “Not long after its closing the property was redeveloped as the Machesney Park Mall (1978).”



Ironically as of 2013 the Machesney Park Mall was described as a “dead mall”, with most of its stores vacant,

and reportedly planned for demolition.

Maybe the nice little airport could've stayed there after all?



A 9/9/13 aerial view of the mostly-vacant Machesney Park Mall, with no trace remaining of the Machesney Airport.



The site of Machesney Airport is located northwest of the intersection of Route 251 & Machesney Road.

____________________________________________________



Ottawa Airport / Skydive Chicago Airfield (C13), Ottawa, IL

41.364, -88.86 (Southwest of Chicago, IL)

Ottawa Airport, as depicted on the December 1952 Illinois River USAF World Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).



The Ottawa Airport was apparently built at some point between 1946-52,

as it was not depicted on the June 1946 Sectional Chart (according to Chris Kennedy) nor on the 1946 USGS topo map.

The earliest depiction of the field which has been located

was on the on the December 1952 Illinois River USAF World Aeronautical Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).

It depicted the Ottawa Airport as having a 2,900' unpaved runway.



The 1956 IL Airport Directory (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)

depicted the Ottawa Airport as having two turf runways: a 2,800' north/south & a 2,000' east/west strip.

The operator & manager was listed as Julius Corsini.



Ottawa Airport had gained a paved runway at some point between 1956-62,

as the 1962 IL Airport Directory (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling)

depicted the field as having a 2,300' paved Runway 5/23, in addition to the 2 previous turf runways.

Several buildings were depicted on the north side of the field.

The operator was listed as Ottawa Flying Service, and the manager was listed as Julio Corsini.



The 1970 USGS topo map depicted Ottawa Airport as having a paved northeast/southwest runway

with a ramp leading to a cluster of buildings on the north side of the field.



The 1971 Flight Guide (courtesy of Chris Kennedy) depicted Ottawa Airport

as having a 2,300' paved Runway 5/23 & 2 turf runways.

A total of 7 buildings (hangars?) were depicted on the north side of the field.



Ottawa Airport, as depicted on the May 1971 Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).



The paved runway at Ottawa was lengthened at some point within the next decade,

as the 1982 AOPA Airport Directory (courtesy of Ed Drury)

described the field as having a 3,400' asphalt Runway 5/23,

in addition to the two turf runways.

The field was described as offering charter, flight instruction, fuel, and tiedowns.



The 1986 Flight Guide (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)

showed that the primary (paved) Runway 5/23 had gained an 840' overrun on the southwest end.

The 1,563' turf Runway 18/36 was still open,

but the former turf Runway 9/27 had apparently been abandoned.

The field had also gained its own NDB navigational beacon,

located adjacent to the cluster of buildings on the north end of the field.



The 1993 USGS topo map depicted the Ottawa Airport as having a single paved runway.



The Ottawa Airport was renamed "Skydive Chicago" Airfield at some point between 1993-98,

as that is how it was depicted on the 1998 World Aeronautical Chart.



A 1998 USGS aerial view looking southwest was apparently taken while the airport was still open.

A single aircraft is visible next to a building at the northeast corner of the field.

The 2 former grass runways were still intact.



In June of 1998, Skydive Chicago Airfield was relocated (for reasons unknown)

to a new field 4 miles northeast of the town of Ottawa,

and the Ottawa Airport was presumably closed at that point.



According to a local resident, “The Ottawa Airport / Skydive Chicago site was sold, probably after the death of Mr. Corsini who was the owner/operator.

Skydive Chicago had used the airport as a base of operations for a number of years before the sale.

They eventually moved northeast of Ottawa to a small town named Dayton.”



A circa 2007 aerial view looking south at the remains of Ottawa Airport showed that the paved Runway 5/23 remained intact (with a closed runway X symbol),

along with several hangars & some other airport buildings.



A 2013 aerial view looking southwest showed that the paved runway remained intact, along with one grass runway,

but houses had been built along the southern portion of the former grass Runway 18/36.

Several hangars remained standing on the north side (foreground).



A 12/31/14 photo by a local resident looking southwest along the concrete strip from the road on the east side of the site of Ottawa Airport.



A 12/31/14 photo by a local resident of a former Ottawa Airport hangar.

The photographer reported, “The buildings are part of a mobile home sales company - they expanded into the area where the hangars used to be.”



A 12/31/14 photo by a local resident of the former Ottawa Airport office building – note the wind sensors on top of the pole on the right.



An 8/10/16 photo of the site of Ottawa Airport, showing that the Operations/Office building had been removed at some point between 2014-2016.



A 10/31/16 photo looking along the remains of the Ottawa Airport runway.



A 1/9/17 photo looking west along the remains of the Ottawa Airport runway.

The photographer reported, “This past summer they’ve been installing water lines along East 16th Road which runs on the east boundary of the old airfield so that might be why the stone & equipment was there.

You can drive through the subdivision & get to the strip.

There are concrete barricades to keep traffic from getting onto the strip but no signs saying to keep out.

The couple of streets bordering the area all have 'Lot for Sale' signs on them so I’d guess they are planning on expanding the subdivision.”



A 1/9/17 photo looking west along the remains of the Ottawa Airport runway, showing the closed-runway “X” which is still visible.



The site of Ottawa Airport is located south of the intersection of North 30th Road & Airport Road, appropriately enough.

____________________________________________________



Wagon Wheel Airport (C80), Rockton, IL

42.44, -89.073 (Northwest of Chicago, IL)

Wagon Wheel Airport was depicted simply as “Landing Field” on the 1959 USGS topo map.



The Wagon Wheel Airport was apparently part of the Wagon Wheel Resort.



According to a 2001 article in the Beloit Daily News,

the Wagon Wheel Resort itself was founded in Rockton by Walt Williamson in 1936.

The original resort burned in a 1945 fire,

but was rebuilt & became a Mecca for celebrities such as Bob Hope & James Dean to perform & vacation.

At its peak, the Wagon Wheel boasted more than 200 rooms, a banquet hall, bowling alley, shops,

candy kitchen, theater, swimming pools, ice skating rink and a church.



The date of construction of the Wagon Wheel Airport has not been determined,

but it may have been built at some point between 1956-59,

as it was not yet depicted on a 4/14/56 USGS aerial photo, nor listed among active airfields in the 1956 IL Airport Directory (according to Chris Kennedy).

The earliest depiction which has been located of Wagon Wheel Airport was on the 1959 USGS topo map.

It depicted a single paved northeast/southwest runway, with a paved ramp & a single building on the northwest side,

labeled simply as “Landing Field”.



The earliest photo which has been located of Wagon Wheel Airport

was a circa 1961 aerial view in the 1962 IL Airport Directory (courtesy of Jonathan Westerling).

It depicted the field as having a single 3,190' bituminous northwest/southeast runway,

with a paved ramp along the northwest side.

There did not appear to be any buildings directly at the airport.

The operator was listed as Wagon Wheel Resort, and the manager was listed as Walter Williamson.



The earliest aeronautical chart depiction which has been located of Wagon Wheel Airport

was on the May 1962 Milwaukee Sectional Chart (courtesy of Chris Kennedy).

It depicted Wagon Wheel as having a single 3,400' paved runway.



According to Harry Fenton (who worked at the Wagon Wheel Airport from 1977-80),

Beyer Aviation (Al Beyer, aka, Beyer the Flyer) was the operator from the early 1970's.”



According to a 2002 article in the Beloit Daily News,

Joyce Beals returned to the Wagon Wheel Resort in 1970 to head its airport.

Beals' duties included giving lessons, selling gasoline and chartering flights.

Between her days working inside the resort & on the airstrip,

Beals saw her share of celebrities.

Like most employees of the famed resort, she did not know who was going to arrive in advance.



"The celebrities were a deep dark secret because Miss Manners did want people knocking on her door,'' Beals recalled.

She remembers John Wayne, Ronald Reagan and Shirley Temple visiting the resort,

as well as Jack Nicklaus flying into the airport & taking in a round of golf at the Wagon Wheel's golf course.

Race car driver Bobby Allison used the resort & airport as a stop-over when racing in Rockford.



The 1971 Flight Guide (courtesy of Chris Kennedy) depicted Wagon Wheel Airport

as having a single 3,200' paved Runway 5/23, along with a parallel taxiway on the northwest side

in the middle of which was a ramp, with two small buildings (hangars?).

It indicated that the field was attended during days.



An aerial view of Wagon Wheel Airport from the 1972 IL Airport Directory (courtesy of Bill Pagett).

The directory depicted the field as having a single 3,200' bituminous Runway 5/23,

with a paved ramp along the northwest side of the field with several buildings.

The operator was listed as Beyer Aviation, with the manager being Al Beyer.



According to a 2002 article in the Beloit Daily News,

taking good care of the airport brought Wagon Wheel Airport manager Joyce Beals

notoriety from the resort's owner, Walt Williamson.

In 1975, deciding the buildings at the airport needed a new coat of paint,

Beals purchased both red & white paint for the job.

But unlike the rest of the resort, which was mainly red with white trim,

Beals painted the buildings white & used the red for trim.

She became nervous when Williamson came out to inspect the paint job.

To her surprise, Williamson was pleased with the painted buildings,

and as a thank you invited Beals to dine with him at his table that night.

While eating that night, Williamson asked Beals if she needed anything for the airport.

When she told him she could use a few airplane hangars,

he arranged for the ground to be excavated the next day,

and lumber for the project arrived shortly after.

However, Williamson suffered a heart attack & died a few days later.

"I never got my hangar," Beals said.



The last photo which has been located of Wagon Wheel Airport was a 4/6/76 USGS aerial view.



Steve Wilson recalled, "The first time I flew into the Wagonwheel Airport was 2/15/77.

At that time there was an FBO open regular hours, and selling fuel.

We used to fly in once in a while, and eat at the lodge

(pleasant walk was about 1/3 mile, or they would provide transportation).

One time my wife & I spent a weekend at the lodge,

and at least twice the Illinois Swift Wing held fly-ins at the Wagonwheel Airport & Lodge in the late 1970's or early 1980's."



According to Harry Fenton (who worked at the Wagon Wheel Airport from 1977-80),

Beyer Aviation was the operator... through about 1979 when he was kicked off of the airport for back rent.

Pheasant Run Resort bought the resort & installed an FBO that they owned - Philko Aviation.

Philko ran for a year or so before folding up.”



Harry continued, “The resort was owned by Walt Williamson,

and after his death, the resort & airport passed through many owners,

none of which made any improvements & the airport continued to slide into disrepair.

To be honest, in 1979 the runway surface was in pretty bad shape & needed resurfacing.”



Harry continued, “I was there on the last day of commercial operations [1980].

The airport was open for operations for a few more years,

but there was no FBO, no fuel services.

There was one lone airplane based there from 1980-86,

a Beech Bonanza operated by Martin Automatic for corporate use.

Martin purchased the remaining fuel inventory & pumped gas for their own use

until the pump was hit by lightning & broke.”



Steve Wilson recalled, "The last time I was in the airport was on 7/02/84, after a couple years of not going there.

Grass was growing up through cracks in the runway,

the asphalt was heaving in spots, and of course there was no one around;

however, NO X's on the ends of the runway!

We walked to the lodge which was still open, and got a bite to eat.

When asked where we came from, we said "the airport."

To which the lady asked, "What airport?"

I guess it had been closed longer than we thought!"



The runway configuration at Wagon Wheel Airport was depicted in the 1986 Flight Guide (courtesy of Chris Kennedy)

as being a single 3,200' paved Runway 5/23,

with a parallel taxiway leading to a parking area & ramp.

However, the status of the airport had evidently started to decline,

as it was described as "Unattended", and the remarks said "[Use at] own risk."



According to Harry Fenton, “I'm not sure of the actual date where the airport was officially closed for operations,

but 1986 is as good as any.

The runway surface was utterly shot by the early 1980's

and shrubs, grass, and even small trees were breaking through the surface.

Part of the resort, including the airport,

was sold for a housing development called the Woodlands in the late 1980's / early 1990's.”



The Wagon Wheel Resort was sold in 1989 to a group of local investors.

The land was sold again in 1992,

and a 5-alarm fire caused more than $1 million worth of damage to the resort.



The Wagon Wheel Airport was no longer depicted at all on the 1993 USGS topo map.



A 1994 USGS aerial view looking north at the site of Wagon Wheel Airport showed the runway remained intact,

though marked with closed-runway “X” symbols.



A second fire destroyed the vacant lodge building in 1995,

and the facility has not been operational since.

VIP Holdings bought the property in 1998 during a Winnebago County Sheriff's Department auction.



The Wagon Wheel Airport was depicted as an abandoned airfield on the 1998 World Aeronautical Chart.



As seen in the 1998 USGS aerial photo,

a housing development had been built adjacent to the north side of the former airport,

and 2 new roads (Williamson Parkway & Falcon Point Place) were in the process of being constructed over the former runway.

The outline of the former runway was still apparent in this photo (although obviously not for long!).

It appears as if all of the hangars & other former airport buildings had been removed.



The buildings on the property burned twice in 1999,

and 2 local men were charged & convicted of arson in connection to the fires.



A 1999 article in the Beloit Daily News indicated that the current owner of the resort property,

VIP Holdings Company, intended to refurbish & reopen part of the facility.



Buck Wyndham reported in 2004, "Despite the fact that it [Wagon Wheel Airport] is totally unrecognizable from the air,

it is still noted as a 'prominent VFR checkpoint' on the newest Chicago sectional chart.

Optimism runs deep at the FAA, I guess."



Harry Fenton reported in 2005, “Ironically, I am buying a house located about 1,000' from where the old airport office once stood.

The former runway location is now covered with condominiums & an old folks home.

The remainder of the Wagon Wheel resort was razed just a couple of months ago

and it is all gone & ownership of the property is in the hands of the courts.



The site of Wagon Wheel Airport is located east of the intersection of North Main Street & Williamson Parkway.



Thanks to Erik for pointing out this airfield.



____________________________________________________