Hopewell Culture
Administrative History
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Preservation of the Mound City Group

The War Department and Camp Sherman

Following Squier and Davis's excavations in 1846, the Mound City Group remained largely ignored, with the surrounding area cleared and put to the plow for the next seventy years. While many farmers regarded prehistoric mounds as obstacles and nuisances to be obliterated, the concentration of large mounds in the Scioto River Valley did not escape this fate, with most of them incorporated into fields as plowing permitted. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Chillicotheans, as had been done in the War of 1812 at Camp Bull, used the area as a drill ground and referred to it as Camp Logan. [1]

The region's bucolic serenity came to an abrupt end following President Woodrow Wilson's April 6, 1917, call for the commitment of United States military forces against Germany in World War I. Rapid mobilization for war required federal establishment of training camps throughout the country. Chillicothe's claim of hosting such facilities during two previous wars gave it an edge over competing cities when in June 1917 it became the site of a World War I cantonment called Camp Sherman. Because farmers resisted the loss of fertile land for the low government lease price of fifteen dollars an acre, local businessmen contributed an additional five dollars per acre. Some farmers still resisted until eminent domain settled the matter. Lease terms gave the government the option to purchase all two thousand acres within five years, and the War Department began exercising that right between 1919 and 1921.

Camp Sherman barracks
Figure 9: World War I-era Camp Sherman barracks built atop a leveled mound, with cut made for adajacent roadway. (NPS/ca. 1920)

Construction of Camp Sherman as the subsequent home of the 83rd, 84th, 95th and 96th Divisions during the wartime mobilization caused Chillicothe's population to swell from 16,000 to 60,000. Erecting a building every twenty minutes, a construction crew of more than five thousand men raced to complete the task in a matter of weeks. Amazingly, the first draftees arrived at Camp Sherman on September 5, 1917. In all, Camp Sherman consisted of two thousand buildings, including two-story wooden barracks accommodating up to forty thousand doughboys, at a cost to taxpayers of four million dollars. In essence, it represented a small city unto itself with full hospital, railroad, prison, sanitary, and farming facilities. [2]

Mound 18
Figure 10: Cross-section of Mound 18 covered by Camp Sherman barracks. (NPS/1920-21)

Siting of barracks in the area of the Mound City Group in Section N and O came about under the influence of local and state officials. Albert C. Spetnagel, a prominent Chillicothe amateur archeologist, appreciated the significance of the mound group and did not want to see the complex destroyed to accommodate the Army's regimented grid pattern. Among Spetnagel's friends were William C. Mills, director of the Ohio State Museum, and his fellow professionals at the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, Henry C. Shetrone and Gerard Fowke. Through Spetnagel's efforts, Shetrone, the society's curator of archaeology, successfully urged the Army to turn one barracks so as to avoid razing one of the largest mounds. Shetrone met with Capt. Ward Dabney, camp commander, to urge caution. Dabney replied: "We will construct the buildings in such a way on the mounds that they will not be destroyed. However, it will be necessary to run pipe lines through some of the mounds. Care will be taken so that specimens may be preserved intact, but if this is impossible, they will be turned over to the [society]." [3] Nonetheless, barracks, streets, and utility lines severely intruded on Mound City Group. While some of the smallest mounds had already been leveled by plowing, still others were obliterated or severely damaged by Camp Sherman construction. Most damaging was the installation of water and sewer lines because they intruded far below grade. [4]

Mound 7
Figure 11: Excavation of Mound 7 by the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society. (NPS/1921)

The November 11, 1918, Armistice brought the inevitable announcement five days later to discharge twelve thousand men from Camp Sherman. Members of the 40th Infantry were designated custodians of the facility during peacetime. The newly-formed U.S. Veterans Bureau designated the Camp Sherman medical facilities to house a permanent Chillicothe Veterans Hospital to care for wounded soldiers. By July 1920, most of the discharges were completed, and the 19th Infantry took over as custodians, leaving Camp Sherman as one of the last World War I cantonments to be closed and its buildings sold as surplus.

Mound 7
Figure 12: Excavation of Mound 7. (NPS/1920-21)

Henry C. Shetrone and William C. Mills
Figure 13: Henry C. Shetrone (left) and William C. Mills (right) of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society at the Mound City Group excavation. (NPS/1920-21)

Through President Warren G. Harding's Executive Order 3558 of October 11, 1921, under congressional authority granted on August 9, Camp Sherman Military Reservation transferred to the Veterans Bureau. The U.S. Veterans Bureau Training School opened in conjunction with the hospital and became fully operational in 1922. A Camp Sherman brick factory, operated by prisoners of war and conscientious objectors, produced the bricks which built the Chillicothe Correctional Institute (CCI) just to the south of Mound City Group. The vegetable gardens and fields maintained by prisoners subsequently were chores taken up by CCI inmates in the early 1930s. [5]

The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society undertook investigations at Mound City Group from 1920 to 1921. After a five-hundred-dollar state appropriation proved inadequate, Columbus Dispatch editor Arthur C. Johnson, along with contributions from R. F. and H. P. Wolfe, financed the fieldwork, and the newspaper further helped to secure the necessary verbal permission from the War Department and Camp Sherman commander. [6] Dr. William C. Mills, assisted by Henry C. Shetrone, also of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, began excavating the first of eight mounds on June 16, 1920. Four of those mounds were half-covered by barracks. Mills called the 1920 season one of the most successful of his career. He told the newspaper,

The life story of this people as told in these mounds is one of the highly interesting chapters in the history of primitive civilization. No primitive people has shown such skill and perserverance in wresting from nature the raw materials needed for their purposes, nor such versatility in fashioning these materials into finished products. In the records preserved in these mounds we find a vivid picture of the strength and persistence of the forces underlying human development and urging it against odds toward a higher plane of development.

Mills said a future project would be to investigate the village site across the river to "see if there is any connection between the earthworks on the east side of the river and the burial grounds on the west side." [7]

Another field season came in 1921, as Congress, reacting to a post-war economic recession, began slashing funds for Camp Sherman operations. [8] Mills and Shetrone called their work a "rich addition to the archeology of Ohio," [9] with Mills stating that Mound City Group represented the "best example of Hopewell culture in Ohio." [10] Their work concentrated public attention on the Mound City Group and ignited a drive to preserve it. [11]

Mica deposit
Figure 14: Mica deposit at the bottom of a Squier and Davis shaft in a mound excavated by Shetrone and Mills. (NPS/1920-21)


Last Updated: 04-Dec-2000