Honoring Akron’s Portage Path

Each day, thousands of people, encompassed in the bustle of daily life, pass by or travel along what once was a vital travel route for American Indians. Different tribes throughout history utilized a land route to “portage” between the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas rivers. Today, we call this route the Portage Path.

American Indian statue at the northern terminus of the Portage Path (photo by volunteer Rob Vaughn)

In October 2001, the path was immortalized with the installation of bronze sculptures that pay homage to those who first lived in and around what is now Akron, Ohio.

WHO USED THE PORTAGE PATH?

Local history guru and former Deputy Mayor of Akron David Lieberth said that the trail was first created by elk, bison and deer that inhabited the forests. The native people who occupied this region improved the forest route to create the portage as long as 8,000 years ago.

While there were no permanent villages of any tribal group, the Portage Path was used by the Shawnee of western Ohio and the Delaware from the area of Schoenbrunn. Iroquoian people who left the five nations of New York migrated to the Ohio country and were referred to as “Mingo Indians.” Additionally, Wyandot, Huron, Ottawa and Miami Indians may have also used the trail.

Mingo Indian sketch (by Summit Metro Parks Naturalist Sarah Putnam)

TRACING THE PORTAGE PATH

According to Lieberth, a surveyor named Moses Warren traveled up the Cuyahoga River from Cleveland in July of 1797 to survey the exact location of the Indian trail, which had been designated as the western boundary of the Western Reserve. He saw an Indian village called Old Cuyahoga Town near the Cuyahoga terminus occupied by Delaware Indians, or “Lene Lenape.”

As stated in the 1785 Treaty of Fort McIntosh, the Portage Path was the boundary line between land that was legally open to European settlement and that which was to belong to the native people. “Indian Territory” was to be west of the line extending from the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, along the 8-mile Portage Path to the Tuscarawas River, to present day Bolivar. Beyond this boundary, no European settlement was to take place after 1785.

A plaque commemorating the Treaty of Fort McIntosh stands at the Treaty Line Area of Sand Run Metro Park in Akron.

HOW THE STATUES CAME TO BE

The marking of the Portage Path had been the passion of former Akron resident William Yeck. In 1990, Yeck proposed that Summit Metro Parks, along with the Summit County Historical Society and the City of Akron, work together to mark the trail of the Portage Path. Although he did not live to see the final result, the Yeck Family Foundation has made contributions of over $500,000 to see the project to completion.

Two large sculptures marking the terminus points of the Portage Path were dedicated in a 2001 ceremony at the big bend area of the Cuyahoga River. Additionally, 50 bronze arrowhead statues mark the exact route of the Portage Path.

October 2015: Sculptor Peter Jones at the northern terminus (near the intersection of Portage Path and Merriman Road)

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Sculptor Peter Jones, a Seneca-Onondaga artist who resides on the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation in New York, was commissioned to design the American Indian sculptures. He did extensive research into the people who lived here at the time of European settlement to guide his representation of the portaging man. Jones’ sculptures portray woodland Indians, known for traveling light. The bronze men wear a breechcloth and headpiece reminiscent of the style of historic tribes.