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The Suburbanite
  • FRANK WEAVER, JR: Next Landing, Portage Lakes

  • The Portage Lakes had its own air strip. It was located in Coventry near the Franklin Township border just west of Manchester Road. The vacant land is still as it was when it was last used back in the late 1960s.

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  • “NOW BOARDING for Canton/Akron, Akron Fulton Airport, Freedom Field, Kent State, Portage Lakes and all points west…” an imaginary announcer at a small airfield in Pennsylvania might have said in an announcement of an airplane ready for takeoff.
    What’s that? Portage Lakes, you ask? Surely you recognize the other airfields the announcer mentioned … but the Portage Lakes? Since when did the Portage Lakes ever have an air strip?
    Well, surprise, surprise! If you think that first sentence is erroneous, you’re wrong. The Portage Lakes did have its own air strip. It was located in Coventry near the Franklin Township border just west of Manchester Road. The vacant land is still as it was when it was last used back in the late 1960s.
     To be quite honest with you, I knew nothing about this, so don’t give me any credit for discovering this gem of local history. The credit goes to Mr. Portage Lakes Historian himself, RC Norris.
    This all came about when my friend and fellow history aficionado paused in his busy schedule to enlighten me on the subject. RC – as he is known to the locals – has never allowed a bit of history to escape his eagle eyes. Like yours truly, he also has a passion for it. That’s just the nature of the man.
    This live-in Portage Lakes curator stopped by the other day armed with maps, documents and stories about the days when planes would take off and land almost every day from the air strip. After reading about a plane crash in the daily newspaper, RC, took the time to delve deeper into the subject. The more he dug the more entranced he became with the knowledge he gained and decided it warranted exposure in the “Outtakes” column “where almost everyone was apt to read it.”
    Now, before getting all beside yourself with uncontrollable euphoria, allow me to stifle your exuberance by saying this was not a standard passenger airfield. It didn’t have runway landing strips designed in familiar triangles. There was no terminal building and no control tower. It was a landing strip that catered mostly to single and double engine private planes, not four engine passenger crafts or jets that were just coming into use. Nevertheless it was a recognized airfield, it was ours and it was smack dab right in the heart of the Portage Lakes.
    And RC was excited.
    The discovery of this historical data commenced when Paul Zetts, a Portage Lakes builder met with RC and, in conversation, told him about the time there was once an airfield in Coventry Township off Lockwood Road. RC doubted his story until Zetts took him in his truck and drove out to an old building where he remembered the location. This led to a drive to see Dave Pennington, a retired Coventry Fireman who had lived in the area most of his life.
    Page 2 of 3 - Pennington told RC, “yes, there was such a location off Lockwood Corners.” If he went to the Coventry Fire Department and asked for the album that has been kept there since 1938, he would find a photo of an air crash that occurred there.
    Off to the Fire Department went RC and,  sure enough, there was an article in the local daily newspaper with a copy of the news item that reiterated the entire story.
     According to an Oct. 28, 1961 story in the Akron Beacon Journal, the single engine air crash killed the pilot, 32-year-old Lee Subotin, a Goodyear garage employee who worked nights and who loved to fly. He was taking a quick spin in his light plane before getting down to the job of changing tires on his car. The plane, flying at an altitude of 300 feet, spun sharply to the right, made three flip-flops and then hit the ground nose first. The pilot was instantly killed.
    The airstrip was located at 1294 Lockwood Road in Coventry.
    Subotin had been airborne about 15 minutes and was coming across the landing strip when the plane plunged.
    RC couldn’t believe it.
    “It was something that escaped my study of the Portage Lakes for decades,” RC said. “No mention of it was ever made in Carolyn Vogenitz’s ‘Portage Lakes – Then and Now’ book or any of the supplements.
     “The old Portage Lakes Weekly (the forerunner to the Suburbanite) never mentioned it,” RC added. “The album kept by the Coventry Fire Department all these years proves this legend to be true and deserves perpetuation in a chronicle such as yours.”
    RC’s discovery of an airfield led to the unearthing of one thing after another.
    Now, he knows there is an old photo album in the Coventry Fire Department that covers more subjects about the Portage Lakes than just the old airstrip. And it goes 79 years to 1934.
    “That’s the real gem in this whole adventure,” RC said. “Without discovering the airfield I would never have known about that album. And that album is full of Portage Lakes history.”
    Gary Robertson, the Wild West Historian and author of the book, “Doc Holiday, the Life and the Legend,” said it best: “Even if a document doesn’t reveal new information, the discovery helps historians feel more comfortable with the record (they already have).
    “Every time you find one it gives you hope that maybe you’ll find some more.” Robertson said. “Maybe there will be something else that we’ve all been dying to get our hands on.”
    Let’s hope so.
    For at least two lovers of history, both RC and yours truly, we look forward to unearthing more hidden history about these wonderful lakes.
    Page 3 of 3 - Comments may be emailed to: Frankweaverjr@aol.com