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The Portage Path

“If the spirit of local interest yet beats in your veins…
You will not rest until these great historical points are again restored.
The Portage Path can again be re-surveyed, and life-sized monuments set…
We owe it to posterity… to see that this done – and done soon.”
rom the book, The Portage Path, by P.P. Cherry. 1911

This past October 6 a dedication ceremony was held in Merriman Valley capping the joint effort of the Summit County Historical Society, Metro Parks Serving Summit County and the City of Akron to mark the exact location of the Portage Path.  By now, you have probably seen or heard about the unique pair of huge bronze statues at both ends of the portage, the one on the Cuyahoga River (northeast of Merriman Rd. & Akron Peninsula Rd. intersection) where the restored towpath trail runs through the Big Bend area.  The other is at Manchester Road (S.R. 93) across from Young’s Restaurant and south of the Ohio & Erie Canal at the Tuscarawas River.

The bronze figures are eight feet tall and are portaging canoes giving an even greater height to the total sculpture.  They are the work of Native American Peter Jones, who lives on the Cattaraugas Indian Reservation in New York.  The figures’ appearance and proportions are based on studies of ancient remains of Eastern Woodlands Indians who were strong, athletic and traveled light.  Most Indian statues in this country are actually based on stylized European figures.  These are only the third set of Native American statues in the United States to be commissioned and sculpted by a Native American.

Another 50 sculptures of a broad blade-cutting tool resembling an arrowhead will also be added to the existing monuments already along the 8.5-mile Portage Path. These will mark its exact route.  The survey used to determine the route was based on the original notes of Moses Warren dated July 1797.  The Portage Path served the Original Americans as an important east-west route between the areas that are now the Pittsburgh and Detroit regions.  As a north-south route it was the only land connection necessary to get from Lake Erie to the Gulf of Mexico.  Ancients traveled from the Lake to the Cuyahoga River and crossed the Portage Path to the Tuscarawas River.  It flows into the Muskingum River that joins the Ohio River that connects to the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf.

Historically, the Portage Path has political significance as well.  For twenty years after the Revolutionary War it served as the western boundary of territories claimed by the newly formed United States.  It literally served as part of the dividing line that separated the white Europeans to the east and the red Native Americans to the west.

If you visit the sculpture at the Cuyahoga River be sure to look for the white pine that was planted during the dedication ceremony.  Seneca Elders from Cattaraugas attended the event dressed in native regalia. Elder and Educator Geraldine Green stated the tree was planted because of its symbolism.  The needles of the white pine point to each of the four directions and also point upward towards the creator.