Mound City Group is the only fully restored Hopewell earthwork complex. As such, it is a national treasure. Here, visitors who walk quietly through the enclosure and among the mounds can still experience a sense of what it may have been like to gather at a Hopewell ceremonial site two thousand years ago.
During World War I the Mound City Group site was occupied by a military training center known as Camp Sherman. In the early 1920s after Camp Sherman was razed, the Ohio Historical Society excavated the site and began reconstruction of the Hopewell earthworks and mounds.
This wonder of the ancient world was constructed by Native Americans over many centuries between A.D. 1- 400. Mound City Group’s walls enclose at least two dozen mounds in an area larger than ten football fields. Never the less, compared to the many giant complexes located around the Chillicothe area, Mound City Group is a relatively small Hopewell earthwork.
The mounds of Mound City Group are so much more than just heaps of dirt. The process by which these American Indians established a burial mound is long and complicated. Many visitors are surprised to learn that where each burial mound is seen today, there once stood a building. The first step in the mound building process was to construct a large ceremonial building of poles and bark with a plastered clay floor. Inside, fires burned in clay basins and ceremonies were conducted. When the ceremony was a funeral, the Hopewell cremated the body. The ashes were entombed on the floor of the building beneath a small mound of clay. About one hundred cremated remains were found at Mound City.
Next to each burial, beautiful works of art were placed on the floor of the building. The artistry of these objects is impressive. Be sure to include some time in the visitor center’s museum in your visit. Here you will be able to see this two thousand year old American art on display. It is astounding that the Hopewell people were able to create such fine art with the tools they used. Typically, societies that produce art of this quality are structured enough to have an artisan class, which seems unlikely among people who were still hunter-gatherers and gardeners living in scattered hamlets.
It was Ohio pioneers that coined the term Mound City to describe its unique density of burial mounds all in one enclosure. The famous team of nineteenth century historians, Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis, were the first to map the site. When they surveyed it in 1846, it was still covered in forest, while surrounding land had already been in intensive agriculture for half a century. However, land pressure eventually overcame the hesitancy to farm this site. Like the farmers at all the other Hopewell earthworks sites, the Shriver family plowed right over the walls and mounds of Mound City Group for fifty years, gradually lowering and widening the earthworks until they had become mere shadows of their former magnificence.
A National Park is Born
The Ohio History Connection funded the reconstruction of Mound City Group in the 1920’s. The reconstruction was based on the maps of Squier and Davis in order to be as accurate as possible. One mound was left unreconstructed so that visitors could appreciate the underlying structure of the ceremonial building.
Visiting the Site
The Mound City Group Visitor Center is located at 16062 State Route 104, Chillicothe, OH 45601. Visitor center hours are 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, every day of the week (except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day & New Year’s Day). Park grounds are open every day from dawn until dusk.
Last updated: May 25, 2018