Where planes once flew, now baseballs do

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  • An abandoned rural airport in Matamoras, PA has found new life as Airport Park.

  • The old, oddly oriented runways are still obvious.

When we step back and look at it, most of human history is simply how each generation has used the land it inherited from the previous generation — or, depending on how you look at it, borrowed from the next. Our present-day society is literally built upon those who have come before, and destined to be the bedrock of future generations. I find myself drawn to locations where the land is still in mid-metamorphosis, not quite what it will be, yet not finished being what it once was. There’s a great example of just that on the bank of the Delaware River, in Matamoras, PA.

On May 31, 1930 this plot of land was dedicated as the Merrill-Ronne Airport. At the time it was simply a collection of sandy strips in the middle of an otherwise empty field. By 1937 the runways were asphalt and connected by taxiway to a new hanger, and by the summer of 1938 the airport earned a promotion of sorts to Matamoras Municipal Airport. Over the years it managed to make a name for itself through the strange layout of its runways, which crisscrossed at the northern end of the property, and also by way of the ridiculously short west-east oriented runway. Though amusing, the airport’s notoriety was not exactly the kind that drives tourism, and the light air travel eventually spelled its demise. By 1970 the Matamoras Municipal Airport had closed, to be reopened under new ownership as Dervend Airport, which operated in a state of quasi-abandonment until 1982, when it finally shuttered for good.

The airport’s history so far mirrors that of many of a rural airfield. This is where it departs. Shortly after the airport’s closure, a playground was built at the end of one of the runways.

Thirty years later, the airport remains; not in its original form, but still very much present. Today it’s known as Airport Park. The runways are still obvious, with the primary one serving as a massive driveway to the newly constructed Delaware Valley Elementary School.

Off to the side of this main stretch is the new Firefly Field, a playground which was still under construction at the time of my visit, as they transform part of an old runway into a bench and maple lined parking lot. The shorter runways that crisscrossed that strip have been turned into the foundations for playgrounds, tennis courts, and access roadways. Off by the hockey rink can still be found black and yellow striped signal lamps, marking the edge of the old airport.

At the northeastern edge of the land is a beautiful veterans’ memorial. A suiting place really, as you can reflect upon the sacrifices given by those who came before us, not in silence, but within earshot of children playing in the yards of the new elementary school next door.

The hanger also still stands, though it now bears the title of Matamoras Fire Department — a perfect example of intelligent adaptive reuse, something we can never have enough of.

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