Hopewell Culture National Historical Park | PARK AT A GLANCE

Mound City Group unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Mound City Group unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

PARK OVERVIEW

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe, Ohio, protects five Native American ceremonial sites that once consisted of massive earthen geometric shapes and mounds created between 1 AD and 400 AD. The people moved on after this time and became part of other cultures, but who their modern ancestors are is unknown. In the 1890s the term Hopewell was used by archeologists to describe these people, and this name is now commonly used. It comes from Mordecai Hopewell, the farmer who just happened to own the land at the site where the excavations took place. It is thus ironic that a Native American people are now named after some otherwise anonymous white guy. However, at the time, naming archeological sites after the land owner was common practice.

The park, originally a national monument, was created in 1923 but only consisted of one of the ceremonial sites, the Mound City Group. The other units—Hopewell Mound Group, Seip Earthworks, Hopeton Earthworks, and High Bank Works—were added to the park in the early 1990s, and the name was changed to Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. Of the five sites, all are open to the public other than High Bank Works. A sixth site, Spruce Hill Earthworks, is within the park boundary but still owned by another organization, Arc of Appalachia Preserve System. It remains undeveloped for tourism. In September 2023, the park and three other earthwork sites in the Chillicothe area became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For those unfamiliar with Native American earthwork and mound sites, while these may be the greatest things since sliced bread to archeologists and anthropologists, they do not have much appeal to the typical tourist. They are, after all, nothing but a collection of manmade hills and ridges. The fact that the mounds may have been used for burials sounds intriguing, but there are no skeletons sticking out of the dirt, and tourists won’t be handed shovels and told to go digging for artifacts. Again, these are nothing more than manmade hills created by digging dirt in one area and dumping it in another, one basket at a time. Yes, the sheer magnitude of the task is mind boggling—in some cases millions of baskets of dirt were needed. These structures were created without modern machinery by thousands of people, perhaps over many generations. But ultimately, they are just manmade hills.

At Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, despite being part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, nothing original exists. Every mound or earthen wall you see was built by the National Park Service (or the historical society that owned the land in modern times) so that visitors could envision what the place was like two thousand years ago. Why was this necessary? Because farmers in the 1800s couldn’t have cared less about the mounds and walls, and nearly all of them were plowed under to create more farmable land. If that didn’t do enough damage, railroads were built through the sites. Roads were built through the sites. In many cases, the mound dirt was used as fill dirt at construction projects. At Mound City, the United States Army graded the area flat in 1917 when building Camp Sherman during World War I. Remnants of any surviving mounds were torn down by archeologists eager to get at the below-ground artifacts.

While everything was destroyed over time, the locations of many of the earthworks were well known. In the early 1800s, adventurers with an interest in ancient history—some would call them the earliest of the modern archeologists—visited the area and recorded the location and size of the mounds. The excavations done in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when archeology had become more scientific, helped fine tune the location of the structures. When the earthworks were reconstructed between the 1920s and 1970s, the shape, size, and location were considered to be very accurate. Modern techniques such as ground penetrating radar and magnetometry have also shed light on the location of structures, including a 90-foot circle at the Hopewell Mound Group that was not discovered until 2001.

The Mound City Group is the only site that was completely reconstructed by the National Park Service and is thus the only site really worth visiting if archeology and anthropology are not of great interest to you. This is also where the park’s Visitor Center is located. Inside you can get a brochure and maps of all four archeological sites, see a movie about the Hopewell Culture, and peruse exhibits in a museum full of artifacts found during excavations of the sites. Park Rangers offer daily tours of the grounds and give lectures on various subjects.

Mound City Group unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Mound City Group unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

The Seip Earthworks also has a reconstructed mound and part of a reconstructed wall, but other structures are only identified by what is called interpretive mowing by the National Park Service. Tall grass is allowed to grow where the earthen structures once existed, and the area around it is mowed short.

Seip Earthworks unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Seip Earthworks unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Nothing exists at the Hopewell Mound Group, though a 2.4-mile loop trail passes through the site, offering more of an opportunity for exercise than an education in ancient history. There are a few wayside exhibits along the trail, and some of the major structures are identified by interpretive mowing.

Hopewell Mound Group unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Hopewell Mound Group unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Nothing exists at Hopeton Earthworks either, but the geometric shapes have been distinctly outlined by interpretive mowing. The result is similar to what are commonly referred to as crop circles. To see them requires a 1.5-mile round trip hike from the parking area.

Hopeton Earthworks unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Hopeton Earthworks unit of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

OPERATING HOURS

The grounds of all units at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park are open year-round from sunrise to sunset (except High Bank Works, which is closed to the public). The Mound City Visitor Center is typically open daily from 9 AM to 4 PM, with extended hours in June and July. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

Keep in mind that times can always change, so be sure to get the latest schedule on the National Park Service’s official Operating Hours and Seasons web page for the park.

FEES

There is no fee to visit Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. All Ranger programs are also free of charge.

SCHEULDING YOUR TIME

Mound City Group
allow 1.5 to 3 hours

Hopeton Earthworks
allow 1 hour

Hopewell Mound Group
allow 1.5 hours

Seip Earthworks
allow 1 hour

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Last updated on May 3, 2024
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