Hopewell Culture
Administrative History
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The Long Road to Hopeton (continued)

Significance of the Hopeton Earthworks

E. G. Squier and E. H. Davis first described "Hopeton Works" in 1846, stating the earthworks consisted of "a rectangle, with an attached circle, the latter extending into the former, instead of being connected with it in the usual manner. The rectangle measures nine hundred and fifty by nine hundred feet in diameter." Continuing the description, they wrote: "The walls of the rectangular work are... twelve feet high by fifty feet base, and are destitute of a ditch on either side. The wall of the great circle was never as high as that of the rectangle; yet, although it has been much reduced of late by the plough, it is still about five feet in average height." [1] The accompanying lithograph depicts the site, spelled slightly different than the nearby settlement of Hopetown about four miles north of Chillicothe, sitting beneath the table land on "fine, arable land." Four small mounds and three small attached circular enclosures are depicted. Where the twenty-acre circle and equally large square conjoin, two, 2,400-foot-long parallel earthwalls proceed across the farmland toward the river, slicing through a natural depression, to an area marked "low bottom, occasionally inundated." The manmade feature, perhaps intended as a promenade, points to the south of Mound City Group on the opposite bank of the Scioto. [2]

While Superintendent Clyde King spoke often of the Hopeton Earthworks to anyone who would listen, his belief in the site's significance and its inherent interrelation with the national monument received validation when the Washington Office instructed Northeast Region officials on October 3, 1958, to assist in preparing site surveys for potential national historic landmarks (NHL). NHLs were recommended by the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments for designation by the secretary of the interior. Known as the National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings, the NHL program was authorized by the Historic Sites Act of 1935. Once contextual themes were developed following World War II, concerted initial nationwide surveys began in the 1950s and concluded in the early 1960s. While outstanding sites could receive NHL status and remain in private ownership, others found to possess exceptional value to the nation's history were eligible for inclusion in the national park system.

Regional Archeologist John L. Cotter got the nod to prepare the "Hopeton Group" site survey. Philadelphia officials were eager "to formulate a definite opinion as to the nature and value" of the site, but believed from the start that Ohio should manage it and would "encourage them to obtain title to it." [3] Cotter finished his survey and sent it to Washington in early 1959, when Regional Director Tobin informed Director Wirth that "It is our feeling that Hopeton Group is a portion of an archeological unit represented by Hopeton Group, Mound City Group, and the large adjacent circular earthwork now on the land of the Department of Justice which should be considered as closely related to the rectangular necropolis of Mound City Group. Therefore, full consideration should be given to the interpretation of all of these earthworks together." [4]

Relating the results to Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society Director Erwin Zepp, Tobin stated, "We believe that at present too little is known of the actual cultural definition of this site to link it positively with Mound City Group. Nevertheless, in our opinion, the Hopeton Group represents one of the few presumably Hopewellian earthworks which still has a trace of circular and rectangular earthworks in conjunction, together with an associated causeway of parallel earth walls and earth mounds." He nominated the state society as the best agency to preserve the site, and should further study establish a definite association with Mound City Group, Tobin pledged to integrate interpretive programs at both sites. [5]

Philadelphia officials placed too much credence in Erwin Zepp's statements that the Hopeton Earthworks would be favorably considered for acquisition by the Ohio legislature. This belief pervaded state-federal discussions in the late 1950s and perhaps influenced a 1958-59 boundary study by Andrew Feil of the Northeast Region's National Parks Planning division to recommend against administratively declaring Hopeton to be within Mound City Group National Monument's boundaries. In the fall of 1960, National Park Service officials were stunned to learn that Zepp had not included Hopeton on the 1960 list of to-be-acquired sites, nor had he done so in previous years. In response, dramatically shifting its position, the Philadelphia office recommended Hopeton as one of two sites in the Northeast Region to be considered as potential national monuments. [6]

Zepp's duplicity prompted Regional Archeologist John Cotter to press ahead and make the case for Hopeton's national significance. In the total absence of state action, Cotter declared "the Hopeton site can only be preserved through the National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings recommendations." [7] Cotter felt the two sites were strongly linked, and NPS management of an enlarged national monument was "logical and warranted for the complete interpretation of the story." Further, he concluded, "The statement of purpose and justification in the enabling legislation of Mound City Group can as well apply to Hopeton." [8]

In February 1961, Regional Director Ronald F. Lee brought events at Hopeton to Director Conrad Wirth's attention. The previous month, Lee agreed to consider amending Mound City Group's boundary survey report to include Hopeton. He reported news from Clyde King concerning a threat of residential subdivision within the earthworks itself. A sixty-eight-acre section called the McKell tract was subdivided by owner/developer Merrill Vaughn of Chillicothe and his agent, Donald H. Watt of Columbus. The immediate threat was one side of the twenty-acre square had one of its earthwalls leveled by a bulldozer. To help orchestrate public pressure to halt the destruction, the National Park Service notified Robert Garvey, National Trust for Historic Preservation director. [9]

While no additional ground disturbance occurred, the development action by a landowner unimpressed by prehistoric values prompted King to prepare information about the site to send to Columbus and Philadelphia in March 1961. [10] In the fall of 1962, a meeting with Ohio Historical Society's Curator of Archeology Raymond S. Baby and Mound City Group Superintendent John C. W. Riddle and Archeologist Richard Faust took place in Columbus primarily to discuss contractual relations the following year for an Accelerated Public Works program. The men spent considerable time discussing Hopeton Earthworks and its need for preservation. The meeting laid the groundwork for a new spirit of cooperation between the two agencies, and Baby pledged to keep an eye on Hopeton for the state. A change in the society's site management leadership promised new hope for state acquisition efforts. [11]

Renewed NPS confidence in Ohio's acquisition of Hopeton lead to incorporating into the 1963 Mound City Group interpretive prospectus the assertion that "The State of Ohio plans legislation to acquire and develop Hopeton." [12] But even before the document's ink was dry, NPS officials knew state action would not be forthcoming. On March 12, 1963, Cotter learned from Raymond Baby that severe state budget cuts not only resulted in closing all state memorial parks, but ended plans for Hopeton until fiscal matters improved. Faced by this news, John C. W. Riddle continued to support NPS acquisition by revising Mound City Group's boundary. Cotter concurred, calling it "the only possibility of saving this site." [13]

Monument staff researched county deeds to determine Hopeton land ownership and prepared plat maps on each interest for Riddle's meeting in April 1964 with regional officials. Riddle reported an "interesting discussion" took place, and mused about "the possibilities, someday, of a direct tie in with Mound City." [14] Riddle's lack of enthusiasm was probably related to the 1964 "Parks for America" publication, the last such NPS report anticipated for nationwide park planning before that function officially transferred within the Interior department to newly-created Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. In its treatment of Ohio, "Parks for America" noted "sites illustrating the prehistoric cultures that once flourished in Ohio have great educational value." Unfortunately for Hopeton Earthworks and other meritorious archeological sites, the agency's recommendation called for adding no prehistoric sites to the national park system. [15]

In July 1964, a public announcement from Interior Secretary Stewart L. Udall's office included Hopeton Earthworks on a list of four Ohio national historic landmarks. Completing work by the National Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings of archeological properties, Hopeton Earthworks joined Newark, Serpent Mound, and Fort Ancient National Historic Landmarks thus elevating these sites for preservation in the public mindset. [16]

Four years passed before any substantive state action transpired regarding Hopeton Earthworks NHL. On December 13, 1968, the Board of Advisors of the Ohio Historical Society considered a proposal by Raymond S. Baby to acquire 250 acres at Hopeton. While the board viewed Baby's pitch favorably, it viewed owners Vaughn and Barnhart as unwilling sellers by asking an inflated selling price. The board threw its support to acquiring Seip Mound as its first priority, but instructed the society's director to try acquiring Hopeton by "other means," including options to buy. Spurred by developments in Columbus, Superintendent George Schesventer advocated proceeding with more Hopewell-related research, concluding "Hopeton and Mound City may be miles apart in the bureaucratic sense, but they are almost as one in the story of the Hopewell Culture of the Scioto Valley." It was up to the Park Service, Schesventer believed, to make the case crystal clear. [17]


Last Updated: 04-Dec-2000