Hopewell Culture
Administrative History
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Clyde B. King, "Mr. Moundbuilder," 1946-1962 (continued)

From Custodian to Superintendent

Acting Custodian William W. Luckett was not a one-man show at Mound City Group National Monument. Maintenanceman James Sampson stayed on and continued routine maintenance operations such as mowing the fifty acres of bluegrass and regular cleaning of the picnic grounds. Thanks to the loan of mowing equipment from the Veterans Administration and state, and donation of small equipment from other Eastern NPS units, the transition from state to federal operations went smoothly. Bereft of interpretive exhibits, the "hordes" of visitors were left to enjoy picnicking, softball, and horse-shoe pitching. In order to provide minimal interpretive services, Luckett prepared a two-sided site flyer which the Region One Office mimeographed for distribution. Luckett reported his literary effort paid off because he found no discarded copies of it littering the grounds. [2]

Briefed for two days by his predecessor, Clyde King assumed the Mound City Group custodian position on November 2, 1946. King, a Park Service employee since 1935 with service at Natchez Trace Parkway, Tennessee; Moore's Creek National Military Park, North Carolina; and Meriwether Lewis National Monument, Tennessee, was pleased by Luckett's work on signage and interpretive services. During these early years with minimal staff, King enjoyed budget and personnel services provided by the Region One Office. [3] In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the park received similar administrative services from Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky. In October 1948, reflecting a nationwide effort to conform job classifications, King's title changed from custodian to superintendent. [4]

King spent considerable time individually counting visitors, groups of picnickers, and noting various state license plates on vehicles parked in the lot. During the first year of NPS administration, 31,572 visitors came to Mound City Group, and 5,445 people entered the pavilion exhibit room where King displayed a topographical model of the mounds and he discussed their use in the context of Hopewell culture. In July 1947, bowing to public demand and to prevent foraging for natural fuel, King arranged an informal concession with a Chillicothe hardware store to supply picnickers with charcoal. Typical of hard-working, unheralded, and uncompensated Park Service spouses, Mrs. King handled area sales. [5]

Unfortunately, hopes for speedy development of NPS facilities were not forthcoming. An effort to include $47,700 for a museum building and exhibits into the 1948 and 1949 NPS budget failed. [6] King made the best of the situation. Nine new picnic tables for the shelterhouse and fifteen for the surrounding grounds were purchased for the 1948 visitor season, along with homemade exhibits added to the display room. Five thousand additional visitors arrived, reflecting the rapid national increase in vacation travel during the prosperous post-war years. Superintendent King increasingly made off-site talks to groups within a fifty-mile radius of Chillicothe on topics ranging from the national parks, moundbuilders, and wildflowers.

Like most managers at small parks with a staff of one to two people, Clyde King was a jack-of-all-trades. When not building exhibits and signs or interacting with visitors, King rendered assistance to Maintenanceman J. Vernon Acton. Such duties could be hazardous. For example, in February 1949, while helping to move picnic tables from storage in the shelter, King sprained his back. Several weeks later while pulling out a dead snag from shrubbery, it broke loose, struck him in the mouth, and caused a wound requiring three stitches. A chagrined King reported he lost no work-time as the mishap and the quick trip to the doctor took place during his lunch hour. [7] Living with his family in the onsite residence, King found himself on twenty-four-hour, seven-days-a-week call. Relief came during the 1952 season when local teacher Max V. Baughman entered on duty as the park's first seasonal employee, an information receptionist. "His presence gives me relief four evenings out of the week from 6 p.m. until dark," King noted, "and makes it possible for me to have two full lieu days each week." [8]

Superintendent Clyde B. King
Figure 30: Superintendent Clyde B. King inspects museum exhibits, many of which he designed and built. (Chillicothe Gazette/Marcus Orr, September 14, 1949)

The predictable routine of monument operations lifted momentarily when special guests passed by for a visit. On August 22, 1950, NPS Director Newton B. Drury and his wife arrived at Mound City Group National Monument for a tour. Director Drury told the media he found the park "impressive" and "interesting," and said that development plans for Mound City Group were still pending within Interior. King arranged a personal meeting between the director and the park's "staunchest supporters": Eugene D. Rigney of the Ross County Historical Society and chamber of commerce secretary Douglas R. Pinkerton. [9]

If he was inclined after his visit to Mound City Group National Monument to assist its development, Newton Drury did not do so. Seven months later, Drury was no longer NPS director, but was replaced for most of the remainder of 1951 by Arthur E. Demaray, who then retired. On December 9, 1951, Conrad L. Wirth became the sixth NPS director. Just as the top administrative juggling caused uncertainty, so too did a reorganization in mid-1955. When the new Region Five (renamed in 1962 to Northeast Region) was created with headquarters in Philadelphia, a sixteen-state area, including Ohio, came under its purview. During the Truman administration and early Eisenhower years, facility improvements at Mound City Group never elevated to a priority level. [10]

Superintendent King first enumerated clear management goals for the park in 1953. His number-one priority was to shift Mound City Group's focus from recreation to interpretation. To do so, however, required a headquarters-museum building for adequate exhibits to provide enough visitor interest in order to curtail or eliminate outright the popular picnic usage. King's second goal was a complete restoration or more accurate reconstruction of the earthworks along with elimination of the railroad spur line and related Veterans Administration facilities. Third on King's list was a landscape program of screening and ornamental plantings. Until these goals were accomplished, King did not believe Mound City Group could be classified as a truly functional national monument. [11]

Lack of NPS movement on park development was undoubtedly rooted in persistent concerns about Mound City Group's physical integrity and, hence, its eligibility for national significance. Upon Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay's request, NPS formed an "Area Management Study" in late 1953, the purpose of which was to identify National Park System units of questionable significance for possible disestablishment and relinquishment to state or local governments. In formulating its goals, the team cited Mound City Group National Monument among others as initial units to be studied. News of the December 1953 survey team effort reached Ohio authorities in February 1954. The Chillicothe Gazette, noting that a similar effort to transfer Mound City Group to the state was defeated just nine years previously, denounced claims that the site lacked national significance. The editorial stated, "It appears it will be necessary to serve notice again that the Chillicothe area is vitally interested in Mound City and not just as a picnic and softball area as it was referred to so lightly in Washington dispatches." The newspaper warned that if successful, the transfer would place it at the "whims of the legislature and eventually it will become just one of the 60 state parks." [12]

On February 19, 1954, survey team member and cooperative activities chief Ben H. Thompson recommended to Director Wirth that Mound City Group be one of the units included in the disposition program. Eugene Rigney, Ross County Historical Society director, denounced the action and pledged to work with the chamber of commerce and others to block it. Rigney feared loss of national monument status would mean a decrease of national visitation as the Chillicothe park was the only NPS unit in southern Ohio. With nearby Adena State Memorial, Rigney warned that the legislature would not be likely to provide adequate funding for two state parks in the same vicinity. To create such a state unit in the middle of the federally-owned reformatory and Veterans Administration land would be untenable. Disagreeing with Rigney, Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society director Erwin C. Zepp welcomed the proposed transfer, while former director Henry C. Shetrone exclaimed, "I think it would be the finest thing that could happen to Ohio in a long time. Their park was developed with Ohio funds [sic] and belongs to Ohio." [13]

Superintendent Clyde B. King
Figure 31: Clyde King presents a program to a fifth-grade science class. Whether discussing natural or cultural resources, King never missed a chance to highlight Mound City Group and the Hopewell culture. (Chillicothe Gazette, October 1948)

Two weeks later, Ohio Governor Frank J. Lausche once again came to the defense of Chillicothe and Mound City Group National Monument. He denounced the determination that the monument was not nationally significant, and pointed out that NPS administered only two Ohio parks totalling no more than eighty-two acres total. Federal park services rendered in Ohio, Lausche argued, were miniscule in comparison to fiscal commitments in other states. He called the federal withdrawal "wrong and an injustice. Ohio, with an area of about 43,000 square miles, has [82] acres being administered by the National Park Service. If you abandon Mound City, from the standpoint of area," Lausche argued, "you will have nothing left. To me, it is inconceivable, that from the standpoint of National Monuments, Ohio should be so devoid of worth. It simply isn't so." [14] Responding to Lausche's protest, Director Wirth declared:

The Secretary of the Interior last year designated a survey team to study the organization of the National Park Service in the interest of greater efficiency and economy. Among the recommendations submitted by this survey team was one to the effect that this Service should review certain areas of the National Park System to determine which, if any, might be found to be of less than national significance and whether they might more appropriately be administered by State or local agencies of government.

The Mound City Group National Monument happened to be among those mentioned by the survey team as examples of the kinds of areas it felt should be reviewed. The Secretary accordingly has directed this Service to make the review as suggested and it is currently being undertaken as a basis for further Departmental consideration. Until this study is complete I am unable to say, of course, which areas may be recommended for disposition. As you may know, however, the abolishment or transfer of any area of the National Park System would require legislation by the Congress. [15]

Adding fuel to the Ohio controversy, the Interior secretary's Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments entered the fray. The advisory board, established following passage of the 1935 Historic Sites Act, reviewed the NPS survey team's results of seven areas that lacked national significance and should be transferred. [16] Approving the four on the top of the NPS list, including Mound City Group, the board added nine more sites of its own. [17] On March 22, 1954, the advisory board formally resolved that Mound City Group National Monument lacked national significance and should be abolished, and that NPS begin the process of getting the park turned over to the state. [18]

Superintendent King refrained from issuing any personal position on the controversy to the media, but continued to stress NPS's role in protecting and interpreting the site. By contrast, whereas the state society's usual practice was to provide site interpretation of local units in its Columbus museum, King hoped "this public service contribution by [NPS] can be brought out more effectively in the community. It is unfortunate that here the interpretive point is so completely surrounded by the picnic facilities." [19] King succinctly summarized the debate for Director Wirth as follows:

That if prehistoric tribes are to be recognized on a National level then the Hopewell certainly should be included in at least one site. This group was the most extensive in occupation area and the most advanced culturally of all prehistoric tribes in the eastern United States.

That of all Hopewell sites the Mound City Group is the outstanding burial shrine, both in the type of burials and the variety of objects found at the site. Too, it is central to the largest concentration of their geometric earthworks.

That while it is unfortunate that the site is a restoration, it is even more unfortunate that no other site can be acquired which will not require restoration to make it an effective display. Further, no site of this type can equal the Mound City Group in economy of operation since the area involved is so limited and located near utilities.

That no other site matches it in the part played in the history of American Archeology, especially in connection with "Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley" first of the Smithsonian publications.

That the completion of a headquarters building and of a display will tend to change the emphasis from picnic use to interpretive and will increase such use in what is normally the "off" season.

That while the State of Ohio will maintain the area effectively it will not maintain a proper interpretive program. Too, the National status tends to draw tourists from all states and countries whereas a State status will tend to localize its use. [20]

In Clyde King's mind, in spite of its overwhelming use for picnicking, Mound City Group deserved retention of national monument status and operation by the National Park Service.

Politically, the transfer effort initially received enthusiastic endorsement from Congressman James G. Polk. Polk, whose district included Ross County, stated that Ohio might do a better job at Mound City Group because federal spending there had been stingy in recent years. When his constituents in Chillicothe rose in protest, Polk tempered his position and announced federal funding would be available for at least one more year of NPS operations at Mound City Group. [21] Polk received his assurances from Conrad Wirth who, encouraged by the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society's willingness to assume management, was at the same time reluctant to act because of Governor Lausche's vehement opposition. On June 9, 1954, Wirth informed Secretary McKay that while Ohio Senator John W. Bricker might back the transfer legislation, "I recommend that no further action for the transfer of this national monument be taken in the immediate future. Later in the year," Wirth continued, "I would expect to discuss with members of the Ohio delegation and others concerned the possibilities of the enactment of legislation to abolish the area as a national monument and transfer it to the appropriate State agency for administration as a State historical park or monument." [22]

By the end of 1954, when public opposition to the transfer had not abated, Area Management Study team member Ben Thompson concurred with Senator Bricker's staff assistant that the matter should be deferred to a later date. In the meantime, Thompson recommended NPS move ahead by asking the Ohio society to turn over Mound City Group artifacts in order to warrant construction of a museum and full interpretive program. The strategy received both Director Wirth and Secretary McKay's approval. In June 1955, Erwin C. Zepp told NPS Chief Historian Herbert Kahler that while the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society was still interested in the new management scenario, it could not cooperate as long as Governor Lausche remained opposed. Zepp confided that perhaps things would change following the next gubernatorial election. [23]

Yet another NPS review approved by Associate Director Eivind T. Scoyen on February 20, 1956, sanctioned continued efforts for Mound City Group disposition. Scoyen's act came in the context of the agency's MISSION 66 program, a ten-year facility development effort launched by the Eisenhower administration to enhance visitor services in the national parks in time for the Park Service's fiftieth anniversary in 1966. This initial MISSION 66 prospectus for Mound City Group simply reiterated contemporary NPS policy of maintaining status quo operations while seeking authority to transfer the area. However, lingering doubts about the transfer which had simmered within the cultural resources professional ranks, soon erupted to call the policy into question.

In a landmark move, NPS Staff Archeologist John M. Corbett's observations on February 29, 1956, delivered the first professional argument from an archeolgical standpoint to justify retention of Mound City Group. Recognizing that MISSION 66 sought a well-rounded, balanced national park system, Dr. Corbett observed that NPS managed nineteen archeological units, including fifteen recognizing various American Southwest culture groups, primarily pueblos and cliff dwellers. Outside that region were a scant four: Effigy Mounds National Monument, Iowa; Ocmulgee National Monument, Georgia; Pipestone National Monument, Minnesota; and Mound City Group National Monument, Ohio. Corbett noted that while Effigy Mounds demonstrated some Hopewellian traits, it was peripheral to and probably later than classical Hopewellian sites in the Ohio and Illinois valleys. Therefore, Mound City Group represented the sole Hopewellian unit of the national park system. The Hopewell culture, Corbett argued, was significant and had to be interpreted to the American public:

Although the visible remains left by the Hopewell people, largely earth-covered burial mounds, are not so readily interpreted or as spectacular to the average visitor (or as well publicized for that matter) as the ruined pueblos and ancient cliff dwellers of the Southwest, the Hopewell people themselves possessed a remarkably well developed and unique culture, and which existed a thousand years before the great prehistoric pueblos of the Southwest, and one which had a marked effect upon all subsequent Indian cultures east of the Mississippi River from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The intellectual, cultural, and religious achievements of these people were in their way, just as magnificent as that of the later Southwestern Anasazi and Hohokam. [24]

While archeologists had studied the Anasazi for seventy years, serious examination of the Hopewell had been underway only one or two decades. Further, Dr. Corbett noted, while the Antiquities Act had been invoked to save a multitude of Southwestern sites, most of the finest Hopewell sites had already succumbed to the ever-advancing population and industrialization of the Eastern United States. As archeologists continued to study sites and develop better techniques for interpretation of past cultures, public interest would be elevated and lead to increased appreciation for the Hopewell on a level approaching that held for the pueblo and Anasazi. Corbett recognized the Historic Sites Survey and Advisory Board's subsequent designation of Grave Creek Mound, West Virginia; Miamisburg Mound, Ohio; and Serpent Mound, Ohio, all classic Adena sites under state control, as national historic landmarks. He viewed divestiture of Mound City Group as unwise:

Since disestablishment of Mound City Group as a national monument would only further throw out of balance a system already heavily weighted toward the Southwest, and since we have no other truly comparable area in the park system and since the accomplishments of the Hopewell people and their effect upon later culture are not as readily appreciated today as they may be in the foreseeable future, I recommend:

1. That we move with extreme caution in attempting to turn Mound City Group National Monument over to Ohio state; and 2. If disestablished, the Service acquire an equal or better area characteristic of Hopewell culture. [25]

In a follow-up examination of Mound City Group's potential, John Corbett observed there were no other Hopewellian sites left that were of its same or greater magnitude. "There is no one area which encompasses the story of American archeology--especially that part of the story which started east of the Mississippi and later spread to the Southwest. But Mound City," Corbett argued, "is as logical a place in which to tell this story because of its association with Squier and Davis and later with Shetrone of Ohio archeology fame and because of its physical closeness to the center of much of the early archeological work which took place in the Ohio valley." [26] To improve the park's interpretive possibilities, Corbett urged reduction of the heavy local picnic usage by imposing a modest entrance fee in conjunction with an increased interpretive program focused both on the Hopewell culture and the development of American archeology through the early work of Squier and Davis. "Such a combined archeological-historical interpretive approach," Corbett opined, "would assist greatly in gradually shifting the emphasis at Mound City from local recreational use to the more conventional historical-interpretive use pattern. It would make Mound City Group National Monument a full working member of the Park Service family." [27]

While John Corbett's argument to retain Mound City Group National Monument in the National Park System ended the policy decision to seek disposition, and likewise quelled the political impetus, the February 20, 1956, MISSION 66 prospectus remained in effect, providing no program benefits to the Ohio park. Until the prospectus was amended, Mound City Group remained in limbo. [28]

Clyde King worked diligently at the local level to change the laissez-faire policy. As early as January 1949, King began scouring the archives in Columbus searching for survey and excavation notes from 1920-21, and discussed loan of artifacts. Columbus officials refused to discuss temporary loans, especially in light of inadequate museum conditions in Chillicothe. Nonetheless, King persisted in attempts to build an interpretive program. One of his off-season duties involved preparing the park's archeological base map. Handicapped by the "missing or mislaid" 1920-21 records, King approached completion of draft base maps by the spring of 1951. [29] When the disestablishment effort intensified, he forwarded the package, complete with historical narrative, to Region Five. On October 23, 1956, Regional Director Daniel J. Tobin sent it to the Washington Office with the expressed wish that "it will add weight to the retention of Mound City Group in the National Park System and [for] its full development and interpretation." [30] In addition to continued efforts to negotiate artifact loans from Columbus, King worked to update the park's master plan that focused on a self-guiding leaflet for visitors in the mound area. There were no trails planned; instead, visitors were free to wander the mounds at will. [31]

In ten years at Mound City Group, King's belief in the park's significance never wavered, but this resolve was tempered by boredom and disgust at the lack of park development. In the aftermath of the failed disposition attempt, he confided his personal desire for a transfer to a colleague: "I want one but I stay here, for no more than 9 years more anyway [until retirement]. However, rather than sit idly by waiting for something to happen, and not a thing has..., I took on an extra part-time job." [32] Using his accrued vacation time, King began substitute teaching in the local schools to provide himself with an intellectual challenge as well as to escape the monotony of counting visitors and picnic groups. Until the pervasive recreational aspect could be curtailed or, even better, altogether eliminated, Mound City Group National Monument would never progress beyond being a local playground.

school group
Figure 32: School groups ate lunch at Mound City before reboarding school buses for their ultimate destination: Adena State Memorial. (NPS/no date)


Last Updated: 04-Dec-2000