Fort Ancient Earthworks & Museum

October 1, 2017 – This weekend, my friend and I decided to head down to the Fort Ancient Earthworks and Museum in Oregonia, Ohio to continue our exploration of ancient Ohio sites.

Fort Ancient is a bit different from the mounds in Licking County and Chillicothe.  This site is two large plateaus surrounded by earthen “walls”.  The walls are mounds of varying heights that seem to follow the contour of the flat hill top.  Two sections were joined together by a “causeway” to form a continuous space.  Inside the walls you’ll find several ditches as well as other mounds and earth works.

Crescent Mound

The use of the site is unknown. But with 67 gateway openings in the wall, no evidence of other fortifications, and evidence that suggests only a small number of people lived there; it is unlikely that this site was actually a fort.

The Ancient Ohio Trail page has a nice PDF detailing this site, as well as several others, if you’d like more detail than I provided.

Getting There

Ever drive Interstate 71 between Columbus & Cincinnati? You know that long, very high, super scary bridge you go over? Fort Ancient is down at the bottom of that.  IMPORTANT: If you are traveling with a large vehicle or a trailer (i.e. a camper of some sort), you need to plan your route carefully.  Don’t just rely on your GPS.  State Route 350 just west of Fort Ancient has a hairpin turn that is IMPASSIBLE to large vehicles.  Even in a small car it is a bit harrowing.  PAY ATTENTION through there.

Now that you’ve been warned, you can use Google to go here.   The site is pretty well marked from I71.

Fort Ancient’s hours feel a bit random, so check their site before you go. They are only open weekends from November – March and closed on Tuesdays year round.  Admission is $7 for adults/$6 for kids/6 and under is free.  If you are an OHC member, it’s free.

The Museum

Your visit will start in the museum.  If you are collecting passport stamps, don’t forget to stop at the desk and getcha one (or pickup a passport here and start collecting.)

The first half of the museum is about the mound building cultures of Ohio.  There are a number of dioramas of ancient Ohio life as well as displays of artifacts and other information.  If you’ve not been to any of the mound sites yet, take some time to read here.  We have been to a number of sites now, so the information is a bit repetitive. You can even watch the guy knap flint from the Flint Ridge site.

The second half talks about the second wave of native people coming through the area.  There is information on the French & Indian war, Ohio Indian wars, and the Iroquois Confederacy.

To the left of the front desk, there is an education/exploration area.  If you have smaller kids they may enjoy this section.  There are a couple of doors that lead you outside to a display of various dwellings and gardens.  When you go outside, come back in the door you went out or you’ll end up in a whole different area of the museum and have to go back through the maze.

Exploring & Hiking

After leaving the museum, take some time to explore the mounds and hiking trails outside.  We stayed south of the museum, but there are a few mounds on the north side of SR 350.

When you walk out of the museum, go to your right and follow the sidewalk around the building.  You will see a small, stone covered mound and a sign for the Stone Circle Trail.  This short trail takes you through the woods and past several stone circles (as the name would imply).

The stone covered mound is labeled “Calendar Marking Mound”.  There are 4 similar mounds that make a large perfect square.  There is evidence that large fires were burned on top of these mounds.  The alignment of the mounds and openings in the wall also line up with various astronomical events (Solstices, moon risings).
Source: see the “Four Square” section

There is a stone circle inside the logs.

Following the Stone Circle Trail, you will come across the Mills Mound (a reconstructed mound) and several stone circles.  This short hike (about 1/4 mile) will then bring you out to the paved drive.  It is about a half mile down to the next parking area in the south section.

As you walk along the roadway, you will have nice views of the walls and openings as they come closer together along the connecting section.  About half way through you will walk between two crescent mounds and then you will see the larger mounds of the Great Gateway ahead of you.  Coming through the Great Gateway there is a sign that explains what this area may have looked like when the site was in use.

Just past the Great Gateway is a marker for the Earthworks Trail.  This mile loop follows the perimeter of the site and offers access t

Little Miami Valley

o two overlooks.  We decided to take this route so that we could see more of the wall area.

About 1/3 of a mile or so along the trail, follow the opening to the right to the north overlook.  This wooded platform gives you a nice view of the valley and the big scary bridge on 71.  From here you can follow the connector trail down to the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail.  This section is quite steep and has a lot of stairs.

Coming back out of the opening, the continuation of the Earthworks Trail was difficult to find.  Hug the tree line and you’ll come to it.  Following the trail some more, you’ll come to the trail head for the Eagles Trail which doubles back and goes below the North Overlook to the connector trail.  Stay to the left and follow the sign for the Earthworks Trail.  Eventually you’ll come to the South Overlook and then back out into the south parking lot.

We decided we’d had enough fun and were getting hungry, so we called it a day.  There are several other features which we did not explore.  We will save those for the next time.

Surrounding Area

Just down from Fort Ancient is Morgan’s Canoe Livery.  I’ve heard good things about this company and their camping.  We have it on our list to check out.

The Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail has access to the site if you want to come in that way.

We went into Lebanon, about 15 minutes from Fort Ancient, to find some food and then head on home.  There were several options for food here.  We decided on a Acapulco Mexican Restaurant and enjoyed a late lunch with a couple of beers (apparently they do not sell liquor on Sundays in Lebanon, otherwise we’d have enjoyed a couple of margaritas). The salsa was amazing!


Until the next adventure… 

Quick Stop: Indian Mill

On our way to a cross country meet, Google sent us down County Road 50 in Wyandot County.  Much to my delight, I saw an Ohio History Connection sign and literally stop in the middle of the road to check it out.  “What the heck? A historic mill?  Let’s check that out!!!!!”  Thankfully, my 13 year old was game!

We had stumbled upon the historic Indian Mill along the Sandusky River. This small site only takes a little bit of time to wander through, but was worth a stop.

The volunteer that was working at the museum gave us a brief history of the site.  The following is my understanding of what he explained to us combined with a quick read of the OHC site.  I have not verified the historical accuracy of the information.

In 1820, two mills were built along the Sandusky River; a saw mill and a flour mill.  During The War of 1812, most Native American groups fought for the British (due to promises of rewards).  The Wyandott Indians fought on the side of the Americans.  These mills were built to “thank” the Wyandott Indians for their assistance.  The two mills allowed the Wyandott farmers to build a community in the area.  The mills thrived until the Wyndaott were forced to move out of Ohio a few years later.

After the mills fell into disrepair, Lewis Rummel rebuilt the flour mill on the current site. He used three water powered “horizontal wheels” (we now call these turbines) under the mill to power the process.   The three-story mill was used to grind various grains for the local people. The mill was owned by a various companies, and eventually purchased by the Ohio History Connection in the late 1960s.

Inside the museum you will find some displays on the history of grinding grains, the history of the community and leaders, and some history of life in the 1800s.  There is a working scale model of the mill that the volunteer has been restoring. The miller’s office gives a history of milling.  You can see the mill stones and various aspects of the original mill including the wheel under the building.

The structure of the mill is still largely original and has some interesting cross bracing in the ceiling that has kept in in such good shape.  The wood on the exterior has been replaced a few times.

Outside you can see the dam and chute that funnels water from the Sandusky river under the mill to power the turbines.  Across the river is a small park that would be great for a picnic lunch.

We had a great time learning about how mills work.  The volunteer working that day was very passionate about the site which always makes for a fun visit.  We spent about 30 minutes wandering around and then headed onto our race.

Admission Cost:  This site is $2 for people over 12, $1 for children, free for OHC members.  I completely, legitimately forgot that my daughter had recently turned 13…blush….  so we spent $3.


Exploring Hopewell Culture (and Craft Brew) in Licking County – Part 2

August 20, 2017 – After spending the morning hiking around a bit, we moved on to look for Hopewell Mounds.

Great Circle

We started our exploration of the Newark Earthworks with the Great Circle Earthwork site and museum.  The Great Circle site is southwest of downtown Newark.  Once parked (google map here), stop in at the museum for  displays on the mounds and an interactive set of videos.  When you exit the museum, you’ll be facing the entrance to the Great Circle.

There are a few interpretive signs throughout the circle that help explain what you are seeing.  From the Ohio History Connection website:

… the Great Circle Earthworks is nearly 1,200 feet in diameter and was likely used as a vast ceremonial center by its builders. The 8 feet (2.4 m) high walls surround a 5 feet (1.5 m) deep moat, except at the entrance where the dimensions are even greater and more impressive. 

The space is rather impressive.  We spent a lot of time walking around imagining how much work went into building and maintaining the structures.  Imagine how impressive it would be to come through the narrow entrance with a large group.

Wright Earthworks

After leaving the Great Circle, we headed to the Wright Earthworks.  This section is the small piece that is left of a square formation.  This section is just a few blocks from the Great Circle.  In the museum information, they tell you this is at the corner of “James & Grant”.  It is actually a bit down James, where the road dead-ends.  Go here.

The kiosk gives a good perspective of what you are seeing.  We spent a bit of time wondering if the white house that is sitting right on top of the square or the welding company (in the photo) have any hauntings.  After a bit of discussion on the “no zone” of houses in Newark (those houses built within in earthworks), we moved on to find the Octagon.

Octagon Earthworks

The Octagon Earthworks are part of the Mound Builders Country Club.  Aim here and follow the signs pointing you to the earthworks.  There is a section of parking and an observation deck for this purpose.  The county club is a private club but allows public access for viewing the earthworks.

From the observation deck, you can get a good view of the octagon mound walls.  This is the only spot on our tour where you could really get up above the mounds to see how the connect.   After the observation deck, you can follow the path around to see Observation Mound.

From the bottom of the deck, walk towards the club house and look for the signs to follow.  You will walk along the cart path between the pool and the course and around to the south side of the course.  From the end of the path, you can see a few mounds in the distance.  It is believed that the large mound at the end was used to observe astronomical events.  The sign at the path explains.


Alligator Mound

The volunteer at Flint Ridge gave us a tip to check out Alligator Mound over in Granville while we were exploring.

This mound is believed to be a bit newer than the others and related to the Fort Ancient people (rather than the Hopewell).  This mound is called Alligator, but that really makes no sense since there are no Alligators in the Midwest and it is shaped more like a mammal.  Climb to the top of the hill and see what you think it may be.

To find this one, head to the Bryn Du neighborhood and follow the main road all the way up the hill until you get to the end.  Or… Point your GPS here.  Enjoy the fancy, ginormous homes on your way up.

We Need Beer!

After our day exploring, we thought a cold beverage was in order.  From Granville, we headed over to Heath to the Homestead Beer Co.  This brewery and tap room sits right next to the Boeing building, which is rather impressive in its own right.

Situating ourselves at the bar, we both opted for a flight so we could try a few different beers and still make it home safely.  We both liked all the beers we tried.  No food is served here, but they have food trucks several days of the week.  There is also a nice patio out front if you are hanging out for a bit.

We had our beers and decided we should head back and get ready for the week.

Exploring Hopewell Culture in Licking County – Part 1

August 20, 2017 – On Sunday, a girl friend and I decided to get our Ohio 4th Grade History on and go explore the Hopewell Culture and Mounds in the Licking County Area.  This continued a Mound series for us after visiting Chillicothe in the Spring.

Super quick History lesson for those not in the 4th Grade: the Hopewell Culture refers to a time period more so than a specific tribe of prehistoric people.  Ohio was the epicenter of this culture.  Two of the most notable features of the Hopewell were mound building and flint trade.  There are mound sites throughout Ohio.  While we cannot know for sure what the mounds were used for, they appear to be generally ceremonial and sometimes used for burials.

This group also traded extensively.  Ohio has some great flint that is exposed which makes arrowheads, spear points, and the like.  Oho Flint has been found all across the U.S.  And beads, shells, and other items have been found in Ohio that came from far away places.  Ohio was the place to be in AD 200.  For more detail, the Ohio History page has some info here.

Blackhand Gorge

Exposed rock face – Blackhand Gorge

We started out at Blackhand Gorge State Nature Preserve.  Early settlers found a prehistoric petroglyph of a hand on the sandstone in this area, hence the name.  No one is quite sure what the hand was for, but generally it is believed to have been some kind of marking point for people coming through the area on their way to the flint quarries near by. Early construction of the canal and towpath through this area destroyed the petroglyph.

This park has a multi-use paved trail that is a “Rails to trails” path.  It also has a few side trails for hiking, which is what we were after.


  • The hiking trails have a few steep spots, a few muddy spots, and some really cliffy areas.  BE PREPARED! This is not a flip-flop hikeable trail.  You want good shoes here.
  • Keep little kids or easily distracted ones very close.
  • This is a nature preserve.  Dogs are not allowed off the paved path.
  • There is a pit toilet at the parking lot.  There is no water or trash cans available.  Pack in and out what you need.
  • This trail is nice in spring and fall when there are fewer leaves on the trees and better views of the rocks.

We started at the trail-head near Tobosso Ohio.  Using Google to get there by the name/address is a b*&%.  Here is a link to the parking lot. From the lot, head past the toilets and onto the paved path.  You’ll find way-point signs along the path, however they forgot to put the letter in the “you are here” part for several of them.  At the marker that should be “B” about 1/4 mile down the path.  If you are standing looking directly at the sign to read it, the trail is right behind you.  Take that.  * This first section of trail can be pretty muddy.  If you aren’t in the mood for that, go on up to the “C” sign and pick it up there.*   The highlight of this trail is between the “D” and the “E” signs.  You will come to a very nice view of the exposed rock where you can see the various layers.

The Narrows at Blackhand Gorge

When you get back to the paved trail, go left for more hiking or right to head back to the car.  If you go left, there is another trail at point “F”.  This one has a very steep start and then some up and down through it and it is rather long and a bit harder to follow.  It’s nice if you are into seeing trees, wildflowers, etc.

When you head back to the car, you will go through a pretty neat narrow area with rock cuts on both sides.  Remind yourself that you are walking on an old train track and try to imagine a train coming through here.  Especially if you were a passenger in the train looking out the window.

Flint Ridge

We headed on to Flint Ridge next.  The park is about 15 minutes away from Blackhand Gorge.  Here is the link in google maps.

This area was home to the flint quarries for the ancient Hopewell people.   the area was also used later on to get the stone for the grinding stones used in grist mills (stones used to make grain into flour).

If the museum is open when you arrive, stop in.  Admission is a couple of dollars each unless you have an Ohio History membership.  This museum is run entirely by volunteers and has a small gift shop, restroom, and a few interpretive displays that the State put in many years ago.  There is also an amazingly old (but short) video of an archaeologist showing how to knap flint into an arrow head.

Flint Ridge Quarries

After exploring the museum, there are a few short hikes worth checking out. You will see the pits left from the quarry.  It is really hard to photograph these.  So the picture doesn’t help here.  But they look like little ditches in between hills.   Kind of visually underwhelming but notice how many there are and how busy this area would have been.  There are examples of the flint rocks near the museum.  Take a look at these then see if you can find some along your hike.  DO NOT TAKE ANY HOME.  This is a nature preserve! Preserve it! 🙂

If you feel like hiking around a bit, there are a couple miles worth of trails to explore; one is across the road.  A nice picnic area and shelter are at just off the front entrance as well.  We decided it was lunch time and headed into downtown Newark to refuel.

Newark, Ohio

Downtown Newark has updated a bit since the last time I was there.  We found the Barrel & Boar BBQ restaurant.  Our food was quite good and an cold beer from the local Homestead Beer Co. was even better.

After lunch we headed onto find some mounds.  Stay tuned for Part 2!

Barrel & Boar Restaurant – Newark