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Machesney Concedes to Progress

“Forty-nine years ago I dug my first spade of ground here, and now I’m doing it again. But this’ll be longer lasting.” -- Fred Machesney, August 2nd, 1977.

The headline from Rockford’s Morning Star-Register Republic paper from August 22nd, 1974 reads “Machesney Concedes to Progress”. As a researcher, I have read thousands of historical headlines over the years but none have had a personal impact on me more than the one listed above. When Machesney came to Rockford he ushered in a whole new era. For the first time in the history of the city, the airplane was now seen as a viable tool for commerce, recreation, and tourism. Business leaders could charter Machesney to take sales trips all over the region and be back home in time for dinner. Intrepid shoppers could take a shopping tour of Milwaukee and Chicago and be home the same day. Hundreds of aircraft from visiting cities and tours came through the airport during the year to promote aviation or conduct business. The possibilities for the airplane were nearly endless and Machesney and his airport explored nearly all of them. Machesney was the cutting edge of progress. The man was ahead of his time and willing to creatively push boundaries and effectively modernize Rockford’s use of aviation. The fact that this same man who was once the epitome of progress was now 47 years later seen by the public as standing in the way of progress is both equal parts sad and humbling.

By the 1970s, Machesney was no longer able to keep up with the airport. Raising upkeep costs and his advanced age meant change was always inevitable. Neighborhoods, subdivisions, and housing grew rapidly around the field and slowly started to gently squeeze at all sides of the airport. There were talks to turn the property into a large city park but no serious offers were made. In the end, Melvin Simons made an offer Machesney couldn’t refuse to redevelop the land into a shopping mall. Like many other historic airfields, it was swallowed by “progress” and largely forgotten by time.

Fred Machesney (left) and Nick Rezich’s (right) standing beside a Travel Air following their flyby at the Machesney Park Mall groundbreaking ceremony.

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