The field on which the airport is located was once referred to as the French Bottoms. It was surrounded by four towns, three of which existed as late as 1979. The northern portion of the French Bottoms was settled first, in the 1830's-50's, and has since washed away. The settlers were French-born and/or descendants of earlier French settlers. In 1877 most of the land that now comprises the airport was located on a river bank on what was called "made land." This land had been formed by river deposits. By this year the French Bottoms contained sixty houses, one church, and two schools. The rich river bottom land, totaling approximately five thousand acres, was traditionally used for farming. Some of the descendants of the early French settlers still lived in the bottoms in 1939, when the area was razed to make way for the airport.
The airport was named in honor of Sgt. Guy W. Rosecrans "and comrades" of the 153rd Aero Squadron, U.S. Army, 1917-18. The new 1939 flying field was the third airport in St. Joseph to bear the name Rosecrans. In 1922 the first Rosecrans Field was opened at Lake Contrary. The second was Rosecrans Municipal Airport on the waterworks road, abandoned because of its small size and its dangerous proximity to the Missouri River bluffs to its east.
The 1939 airport was developed by the city as a municipal airport. Two three-thousand-foot-long runways were constructed in 1939, as well as an aircraft hangar located east of the runway intersection. During World War II the federal government established an Army Air Force Base there. During 1941-43 many improvements were made. The diagonal runways were doubled in length and a 5,500-foot north-south runway was constructed. The aircraft parking apron and many temporary buildings, including Hangar T-1020, were built. In 1948 much of the airfield's facilities were conveyed to the city, with the exception of 142 acres set aside for use by the Air National Guard (organized in 1946). Airport construction during this period consisted of pump house buildings and T-hangars (1949-50) and a terminal and administration building (1951-52).
A Missouri River flood in April, 1952 damaged many of the temporary World War II airport buildings beyond economical repair. After the flood the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed a cut-off channel for the river, east of the airport. An oxbow lake (Browning Lake) was formed in the old Bellemont Bend and Elwood Bend portions of the river channel. The cut-off channel modified portions of Bon Ton Bend and St. Joseph Bend, and separated the city from the airport. A bridge and highway were later constructed to connect the two.
Construction during the next twenty years included a main hangar building (1954), a flight office building (1960), an emergency generator building (1963), a center taxiway (1973), and a runway (1974-75).
The airport was flooded in 1993, destroying the City Administration Building and the Cockpit Cafe. Both were rebuilt. The oldest, center hangar had to be demolished. In 1994 the diagonal runway 13-31 was being rebuilt into a new assault landing strip for the Air National Guard and for general aviation aircraft. A new fixed base operator building and a hangar were also being constructed.
Over the years the airport has been used for/by business-related aviation, agricultural crop spraying, charter passenger and cargo services, area student pilot training, nightly mail delivery, the Missouri Air National Guard use, and TWA pilot training.
This photo was taken around 1938. It is a 'Lockheed Electra', similar to the aircraft Amelia Earhart flew on her fateful journey. In 1926, Congress approved a bill authorizing the federal government to contract with private businesses to deliver air mail service throughout the country. The bill is known as the 'Kelly Act'. This plane was one of the aircraft that flew mail from/to St. Joseph during this time. The Kelly Act is historically known as the main component that commercialized aviation, and thrust aviation from a sport to big business. Thousands of new aviation businesses began as a result of this bill, and more people began flying commercially along with the mail.