McCoy Airport Then and Now

So there I was, studying the 1932 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for Dodge City and before I knew it, I had fallen down an airport rabbit hole. If you’re like me, you know all about the old airbase west of town and may have even attended a party or two in one of the old hangars. Not that I ever did that…I swear. What I didn’t know is that Dodge City had an airport back in 1928, and it wasn’t at the current site east of town.

There was talk of building an airport in 1926 but since Southwest Kansas is so flat, planes could basically just land wherever.

The Southwest News, October 21, 1926

William F McCoy of the Luther-McCoy (and later McCoy-Skaggs) Motor Co. owned a home at 1500 Central Avenue in 1925. A couple years later, he bought a quarter-section northeast of his house to build an airport.

This article is interesting because it places the McCoy Airport between 6th and 14th Avenues. I’m not sure what happened with that tract, but the airport was definitely not built there.

The Hutchinson News, August 1, 1927

My grandmother was born in 1921 and I remember her telling me she rode in a biplane when she was very young. She said it was quite a thrill. I have no idea if Merritt and Beth took her to this event but I can’t imagine them missing it.

The Hutchinson News, September 8, 1928

The Hutchinson News, September 27, 1928

Aviation, October 6, 1928

I also remember Irene telling me about Charles Lindbergh coming to Dodge and I just assumed he used the municipal airport but that land hadn’t even been leased yet.

The Emporia Daily Gazette, October 23, 1928

A revolving beacon light was installed to guide night flyers in November of 1928. The lamp cost about $500 plus another $800-900 to install the electricity. The Transcontinental Air Transport (later TWA) planned to use the McCoy Airport until the municipal airport was ready for service.

The Hutchinson News, February 21, 1929

In August of 1929, the Department of Commerce Aeronautics Branch reported McCoy Airport had two runways with a standard 100-foot white circle marking the center of the field. There were no services but the landing field did have two 30’x40′ hangars.

The same month, the City of Dodge City leased county farmland east of town, which had previously been used as the county poor farm, for a municipal airport. The timing was terrible, however, and the Dodge City Municipal Airport wasn’t operational for several more years.

I’m as shocked as you are to learn Dodge City had a School of Aeronautics in 1929.

The Dodge City Journal, September 12, 1929

By 1931, the Airway Bulletin indicated that McCoy Airport had day services only. Hey, it was better than no services!

So where, exactly, was this airport? I found a brief history submitted by the City circa 2018 that said McCoy Airport was at the current location of Gibson’s Pharmacy. Based on the 1932 Sanborn, that is incorrect.

McCoy Airport is shown at the northeast corner of an intersection of two country roads, which doesn’t seem super helpful but it actually is. Gibson’s Pharmacy is on Central Avenue, which was not listed as a country road in 1932. Avenue A north of Comanche, on the other hand, was listed as a country road.

This 1933 Sectional Aeronautical Chart for Wichita (not Witchita, for heaven’s sake) shows the McCoy Airport being basically due west of Wright. Same in 1934 but on the 1935 Chart, you can see the Dodge City Airport along Hwy 50 but no McCoy Airport. That’s because the landing field’s last use was in 1934 and the beacon was relocated to the new airport east of town.

It must have been a timing issue between the chart and the bulletin but in 1934 there was no listing for an operational airport in Dodge City.

Airway Bulletin No. 2, September 1, 1934

I attempted to use the coordinates from the 1929 Airway Bulletin above to confirm the location but the conversion was off just a bit. The red pin in this Google Maps screenshot is too far east.

I already knew the airport was directly NE of a water tank and 1 1/4 miles north of the court house. I found a 1924 article stating a new baseball diamond was built in a field at the end of Avenue A, east of the stand pipe. That was important because I wasn’t sure how long a water tower had been located just east of Central. The Air Bulletin made no mention of hazards other than to the southeast of the airport so I knew it had to have been far enough northeast of St. Anthony’s Hospital to pose no problems.

After staring at every map I could find until my eyes crossed, I reached the conclusion that McCoy Airport must have been located at the northeast corner of Avenue A and University Drive. It looks like there was an entry road located approximately where San Jose Drive is today.

I reached out to the City of Dodge City for confirmation and hit the jackpot! The aerial photo below was taken facing the southwest. You can see the standpipe at Central Avenue and what is now La Mesa Drive plus St. Anthony’s Hospital in the background, and if you really squint, you can see what was then (and to most of us) the Senior High School. This is seriously one of the coolest photos I’ve ever seen of Dodge.

Photo courtesy City of Dodge City

The much more recent photo below was taken from Avenue A and the bypass looking south. The old airport site would have been way down near those trees on the left side.

Photo by Hoover Cott

And here are some photos of the area now:

Bonus Content: Since I was there poking around, here’s a 1944 Chart showing the Dodge City Army Air Field. This 1969 Chart shows the old airbase was abandoned and also the airport at Wilroads Gardens, which I didn’t even know was a thing.

Researching this old airport was really fun. I can’t believe all of this information was just out there, waiting to be rediscovered.

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