Last week I wrote about the Walk with the Ancients I did a few years back. It was a great way to meet great people and to learn more about the mounds built centuries ago by the native peoples.
Last Saturday I had an opportunity to do a day-walk that I’m going to call “A Walk with the Currents”.
The mounds of Ohio are being considered for becoming UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As part of that flurry of activity, and with help from a grant, the Ancient Ohio Trail website was created (Go there to learn more—seriously), and activities have been planned to raise the awareness of the people of Ohio who don’t know that such gems of ancient history are located within the state.
Unfortunately, when settlers started moving to Ohio is the early 1800s, they were just trying to live, and the cultural sensitivities we have today were barely a twinkle in anybody’s eyes. Most of the mounds were plowed under or plundered (there must be a good pun there). In some ways we should be happy that there is anything left at all.
One of the better preserved sites is the Newark Earthworks. Here’s how they were drawn on the Salisbury map of 1862.
Even then, not much is left, partly because the City of Newark sits on top of it. The Octagon and Observatory Circle (upper left) are the site of the Moundbuilders Country Club, which only grudgingly allows access to the public 4 times a year. (There is one small portion that is always open to the public.) The Great Circle (lower middle) is currently a park, but it was only preserved because it was used as the county fairgrounds for many years.
The rest is pretty much gone. The Ohio & Erie Canal went through there, railroads were built, farmers farmed, and the city of Newark expanded so that the rest is now standard city blocks.
The Walk with the Currents was a full-day walk when Jeff Gill of the Newark Earthworks Center led us along the ancient circuit of the mounds, and we got a chance to see some of the few remnants of the work, or sometimes just hints that that structures were there.
Jeff prepared a marvelous interactive Google Map that laid out the route, and what to see along the way. Make sure you click on the various features and pushpins to learn more about what is at that location.
Looking at the Salisbury Map, you can see Raccoon Creek (under the north alignment arrow) and the “bluffs” above the river (the “bluffs” are maybe 10 feet high, and mostly rounded off—so really, they are just slightly higher locations). These are just above the Creeks flood plain. You can also see the South Fork of the Licking River coming from the south and joining Raccoon Creek to become the Licking River. (You can also see how I think the Licking Got Its Name.)
The Walk with the Currents attracted about 25 people (perfect number for such a history hike!). And here they are at the beginning.
[All pictures taken by and courtesy of Jeff Gill.]
While Jeff Gill led the walk, also along to assist was Brad Lepper, Curator of Archeology for the Ohio Historical Society. Here he is explaining the significance of one of the locations right near where we started. The remains of an old dwelling was here—obviously, putting the expressway on top of it rather ruined it.
What we did was a circuit of the earthworks (or at least where they had been). If you look back at the Salisbury map, you can see that the two eastern “highways” lead from the rivers. It is suggested that many of the people gathering at the Octagon would have arrived via canoe, and started their “tour” from there. We started at the northern of the two, near Raccoon Creek (and there are some cultural reasons that this might have been true for the ancient peoples). Looking at the map, you can see that it looks like there might have been a notch in the “bluff” as the parallel walls started.
Here we are heading up that notch.
This location was only discovered by Jeff last year. There are good reasons to think that this location really is the location of the start of the “highway” to the Octagon: that is very old brick that looks like it was laid down on a pre-existing stabilized pathway, and the notch is in just the right place.
Here’s a LiDAR picture I’ve put together showing the elevations in the area. The “bluffs” show up pretty clearly and match the bluffs marked on the Salisbury map. And the notch is in the right place.
(You’ll notice that the LiDAR is sensitive enough to even pick up city streets.)
What is fascinating is that this has been there all along, but since everybody assumed that no traces of the earthworks remained, nobody looked for it. But when Jeff did so, there is was.
Hopewell (for that is what the culture was named) earthworks also have many circular structures (raised earth raised in a circle, often called “herraduras”, Spanish for “horse-shoe”, because often one end has an opening). Hull House along Main Street still has the remains of one (the house was built inside the circle).
It’s a bit hard to see in this picture since it is still in the shadow just before the bright part. Also, the mounds have been worn down, so there really isn’t more than about a foot of relief.
We continued west along the route of the “highway”, down Camp Alley. The Octagon complex was used by the Ohio National Guard for a while, and Camp Alley was used to get from town to the camp there. This was before the city had expanded out this far. Camp Alley is along a raised bit of terrain (maybe just a foot or so higher than surrounding land) and there is a bit of speculation that it may have been raised by the existence of the mound “highway”. As Jeff told us, we needed to “Watch the land!” to see what was once there.
On the other hand, if you carefully look at a direct route from the notch to the Octagon, the actual “highway” was maybe 40 feet just north of there.
At the Octagon itself, we “occupied” the small portion the Country Club allowed us to be on, and Dick Shiels, the Director of the Newark Earthworks Center gave us the story of how the Octagon complex was preserved, and also how it was that this piece of public property was currently leased to a rather snobbish (my word, not his) country club.
From there we headed to the Great Circle, then the remains of Wright Square, for which just one small corner still exists. From there we headed into the oval, and the location of where there had been many burial mounds until the construction of the canal and the laying of the railroad destroyed them.
However, it seems that at least one of them might be intact, with the railroad having been built right on top of it. We stopped there for a remembrance, led by Mark Welsh, a member of the Lakotas who I first met on the Walk with the Ancients.
From there we headed down to the southeast, to see what might be seen of the corridor there as it headed down off the bluff towards the South Fork of the Licking River. Here Jeff is explaining where we are heading to.
Unfortunately, the landscape down in that direction has been heavily changed with industrializion, so there really was no sign. But we did complete our circuit with a real “Walk with the Currents” — the currents in the river.
Here I am with Jeff.
(No, he is not barefoot—he wore river sandals for the full walk.)
I found the circuit walk to be extremely interesting, and a lot of fun.
The Moundbuilders Country Club only allows full access to the Octagon complex 4 days a year. The next one will be Sunday, October 14. Current plans are for Jeff to lead another Ancient Ohio Trail circuit hike of the Newark Earthworks on the Saturday before, October 13.