Blog: Harris Field becomes a municipal airport (4/19/22)

In March 1944, Harris Field ceased to be a training center for Army pilots. Three years later, voters here approved a $115,000 bond issue that paved the way for the airfield to be acquired as a municipal, now regional, airport.

Members of the Cape Girardeau Airport Board of Directors spearheaded the campaign for adoption of the bond issue: HI Himmelberger, CA Juden, AW Zimmer Jr., Frank A. Lowry and Rush H. Limbaugh Jr. The day after the favorable vote — April 23, 1947 — Missouri photographer GD Fronabarger, himself an aviation enthusiast, took a photo of Limbaugh holding a copy of The Southeastern Missourian with a title banner on the front page that read: “AIRPORT BONDS, CITY EXTENSION VOTED BY CAPE.”

Curiously, this photograph was not published in the newspaper at the time.

Here is what Limbaugh read that day.

Published Wednesday, April 23, 1947 in the Southeast Missourian:



Cape Girardeau, assured by voters on Tuesday that it will be served by its own major airport, moved forward today toward the formal acquisition of Harris Field, its wartime airbase.

Mayor RE Beckman, delighted with the overwhelming majority (2,401 for, 519 against – Sharon) given to the proposed $115,000 airport bond issue, said the city would waste no time in have the obligations, this, of course, while waiting for the formalities transfer from the airport to the city.

To apply for a provisional permit

Chairman CA Juden and Secretary Rush H. Limbaugh of the Cape Girardeau Airport Board said contact would be made today with the War Assets Administration office in St. Louis to advise of the passage of the bond issue and apply for a provisional license to operate the port until such a time in the near future when the government can formally transfer title to the city to the 58.7 acres of land that the government owns.

It is expected, according to council members, that it will take a few weeks to complete the formalities by which the government will transfer the land and equipment to the city. In the meantime, the board will continue negotiations to acquire the 260 acres of land needed to meet Civil Aeronautics Administration requirements for a Class 3 airport. Options to purchase have already been taken on a portion of land that is estimated to cost between $125 and $150 per acre. The city has the power to acquire the land, if necessary, by condemnation.

To apply for federal assistance

Following the official transfer of title, the city will apply to the state and federal governments for the promised assistance to pay for part of the cost of building improvements, the latter to include the extension of the runway. diagonally paved at 4,000 feet and the construction of a 400 foot grass runway.

The council also took a step closer to setting up the airfield for one of its many operations. A copy of the proposed lease between the US Navy and the city, whereby the 129th Naval Reserve Division will use one of the four large hangars as its headquarters and base of operations, was sent to the Ninth Naval District Headquarters in Great Lakes (Illinois). ) and will be submitted to the Navy Department for formal approval.

Council officials reported that they have a final request from the National Guard’s 140th Infantry Regiment, which is now headquartered in the arena building, to occupy one of the hangars and two other structures on the ground, liaison and administrative training buildings.

Operator to move

As soon as the council obtains its provisional license to operate the field, Consolidated School of Aviation, Inc., can move to the port and occupy the two remaining hangars. The current operator, Cape Girardeau Flying Service, has been advised by the council to vacate the premises, with the company’s tenure on the ground expiring on May 15. ready to start operations at Harris. Consolidated has already signed a contract with the council to pay the city annual rent of $4,800.

Meanwhile, five airlines have applications pending before the Civil Aeronautics Board in Washington for air service permits at Cape Girardeau. Naturally, not all of these applications will be certified to offer air service here, but it is possible that one or two of them will receive the permits. At least one of the applicants, Commonwealth Air Transport, Inc., has been particularly active in its efforts to obtain a permit for a route between Nashville, Tennessee, and St. Louis, serving that city.

Harris Field, circa 1946. (GD Fronabarger ~ Southeastern Missouri Archives)

Under municipal control

The operation at Harris Field has been rather limited in nature since the port became war surplus property and the WAA gave the city a year ago a lease, equivalent to a provisional license, to operate the field. The city then leased the facility to Cape Girardeau Flying Service on a monthly basis at $50 per month.

Responsibility for leading the movement to acquire the land, improve it, and operate it was then assigned by the city to its airport board, which was appointed and activated on May 28, 1946. Members were appointed to varying mandates. HI Himmelberger was appointed for six years, CA Juden and AW Zimmer Jr. each for four years, and Rush H. Limbaugh Jr. and Frank A. Lowry each for two years. Members serve without compensation.

Harris Field was built in 1942 and was federalized on December 31, 1942. More than 2,500 Army Airmen were trained at the field, which remained active until March 17, 1944, when it became the one of the bases for surplus warplanes. More than 1,200 aircraft were stored there, most of them being sold to private buyers.

On August 29, 1947, the government ceded the centerline of Harris Field to the town of Cape Girardeau.