Geneseo Genealogy: Local museum, airfield provides look into aviation history

One of Geneseo’s hidden treasures is the National Warplane Museum just west of campus. The museum is literally off the beaten path—you have to go down an unpaved road to get there—but it’s still absolutely worth the short walk, bike or drive over.

Museum president Austin Wadsworth explained that his position is one he “fell into a long time ago.” “It was always something that has been an interest of mine since childhood—aviation, particularly World War II because that’s when I grew up,” he said. “It just grew and grew into something that was very fulfilling for me.”

The most prominent airplane on display is a Douglas C-47 Skytrain that has been restored to mimic what it would have looked like on D-Day. During Operation Neptune, C-47s were used to drop paratroopers into Normandy, France and surrounding towns. Members of the museum flew this C-47—named Whiskey 7 because of its squadron marking—to Normandy last year to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings. The group stopped five times to refuel, but they made it across the Atlantic.

The C-47 is just one of dozens of World War II and Korean War-era planes on display at the museum. One of the most interesting-looking planes was the Russian Antonov An-2 Colt on display in the main hanger. According to a sign next to the plane, the biplane seated up to 14 people and has a range of 525 miles—and the plane is still in working order. Anton Air president Lee Barker donated the plane. It took over 35 flying hours to reach Geneseo from Nome, Alaska.

According to Wadsworth, there are several other ways the museum acquires old aircrafts. “The C-47—our flagship—came from a gentleman who had repaired it and put it together to fly it in a commercial operation moving people from New York City to Nantucket … When it didn’t work out … it was more economically feasible for him to donate it,” he said. “Other people retire; we just got a nice little Piper. Gentleman retired, stopped flying … he had always been a friend of ours for years and years and years and he said right from the start that when he gave up flying, he wanted the plane to come here.”

Airplanes are far from the only things on display, however. The museum is currently restoring a DUKW, also known as a “duck boat,” made by General Motors. The DUKW—an acronym for an amphibious, all-wheel drive vehicle with two real powered axles made in 1942—was used during World War II by the Army and Marine Corps. The vehicle could carry up to 25 fully equipped combat troops. Although it is far from amphibious now and needs a new paint job, the engine runs fine and is a staple of the museum.

The land around the museum is used as a turf runway and farm land. “The airport is open to the public. Such notables as Sen. [Chuck] Schumer landed here; Gov. [George] Pataki used to land here for functions at the college,” Wadsworth said. “We harvest all the area that we operate on … It’s very low impact because the grass is all there; no concrete, we’re not collecting storm water, we’re not changing the flow of water or anything. If the airport were to go away tomorrow, it’d be back in crops.”

In addition to airshows, the museum holds community events for area veterans every few months. “They come down here and [we] have a dinner and a picnic every summer for the [Veterans of Foreign Wars],” Wadsworth said. “Veterans Day, we’ll be open; we’ll be giving rides in the airplanes and we’ll have a little late lunch and coffee for any vet that wants to come down.”

The museum simultaneously serves Geneseo as both an interesting exhibit of history and a place to honor and remember those who fought during World War II and the Korean War.