THE COKATO AIRPORT

Yes, dear reader, you read that correctly. Cokato once had an airport.

The airport was located on a parcel of the Gordon F. Anderson farm, two miles northeast of town in Section 25 of Cokato Township. For most of its existence, it went by the name Anderson Airways.

The Cokato airport came into existence thanks to an appropriation from the federal Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA). The CAA was created in 1940 by President Franklin Roosevelt and administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce. For most of its existence, the CAA governed air traffic control, airport safety, and airway development. The CAA’s role in the creation of Cokato’s airport was due in part to World War II.

The use of air power during that war demonstrated a need for air fields beyond those at military bases and in large cities. The CAA was directed to promote the construction of air fields across the country, which began to see its genesis towards the end of the war. As the Cokato Enterprise stated in December 1944, this program “helps to put into concrete form the American vision of the future as the age of the air.”

In Minnesota alone, $7.85 million was allotted for improvements at the state’s 36 existing airports, and $3.83 million was for 114 new airports in the state. Three Wright County communities—Buffalo, Monticello, and Cokato—were included in the state’s list. The recommended allotment for Cokato: $17,000.

By March 1945, the Minnesota Aeronautics Commission had approved the plans for the Anderson air field. The field was 2,000 feet long and had two runways. Hinck Flying Service of Monticello provided lessons to fifteen local men one day each week. The Enterprise noted that cub planes “with small engines and the characteristics of a glider” were being used for instruction.

During the summer of 1945, Mr. Anderson constructed a hangar at the air field. The 40 x 65 foot structure would hold up to six planes (or “ships” as the local media called them). A gasoline pump and other facilities were to be included with the hangar.

In less than a year, the popularity of flying from Anderson Airways—the name it now went by—had grown tremendously. Representatives from an air show scheduled for the Minneapolis Auditorium came to Cokato in February 1946 to interview people interested in aircraft. An air show was also scheduled for the Wright County Fair in Howard Lake.

The Minnesota Commissioner of Aeronautics noted in April 1945 that there were 78 operating public airports in the state. Prior to World War II, there had been only 38. An estimated 10,000 Minnesotans were listed as certified pilots. In pre-war Minnesota, there were only 2,200.

The commissioner also stated that air fields were slated for development in nearby communities like Annandale and Hutchinson. Other cities in Minnesota developing airports during the spring of 1945 included Fergus Falls, Detroit Lakes, Park Rapids, Marshall, Ortonville, and Marshall. By mid-summer, between 10—15 airports were in the planning phase.

In most instances, pilots were men. There were however a few women amongst those ranks. In August 1946, Margaret (Howard) Terning became the second Cokato woman to attain the status of a licensed student pilot. Jean Peterson holds the distinction of being the first woman as a licensed student pilot.

Business at the airport was brisk. Sometimes flights were strictly for pleasure. Roy Kinlund flew to Cokato from Marshfield, Wisconsin to visit his parents. Horace Gebo and his wife flew to Vernon, Texas for a flight instructors reunion. He estimated that the flight would take about six hours.

Other times the trips were for commercial reasons. An entry in the Hunt & Poke column of the Enterprise noted that Joe Leukuma flew Harold Hackbarth to Fargo on business. They left Cokato at 6:30 a.m., arriving in Fargo at 8:30 a.m. They returned to Cokato in the late afternoon. A plane was even used to fly canning factory parts from Montgomery, Minnesota to Cokato.

By the fall of 1946, ten “ships” were based at Anderson Airways. Seven were owned by private individuals, three belonged to the Airways.

A severe storm in early June 1947 wrecked the hanger at the airport and damaged three planes stored there.

In July 1948 a regular column began in the Enterprise called simply “Airport News.” These columns appeared about every two weeks, featuring information about who had flown where and when, who was training to be a pilot, and other notes of interest to aviation enthusiasts.

The popularity of air shows eventually reached Cokato. On September 5, 1948, the Cokato Association for Public Affairs, a forerunner to the Cokato Area Chamber of Commerce, co-sponsored an air show at the airport. The show included exhibitions, flying demonstrations, and parachuters.

Eventually, the airport at the Anderson farm closed down. Even though it was for a short time, Cokato was indeed a part of the bold vision of the future.

©2006, Cokato Historical Society