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A HISTORY OF DESTRUCTION AND PRESERVATION

In 1820, the American Antiquarian Society published a work by Circleville postmaster Caleb Atwater entitled, A Description of the Antiquities Discovered in Ohio and other Western States.  This work brought the monuments of the Hopewell culture to the attention of the world and Atwater's map of the Newark Works was featured in Plate 1.  Thomas Jefferson read Atwater's book and wrote to the president of the American Antiquarian Society congratulating the society of this important publication and expressing his hope that

"…the monuments of the character and condition of the people who preceded us in the occupation of this great country will be rescued from oblivion before they will have entirely disappeared."

In 1848, the earthworks of eastern North America, including Newark, became the subject of the historic first volume of the Smithsonian Institution's Contributions to Knowledge series -- Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley by Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis.  Right- The Squier and Davis Map. Click for a closer view
The map of the Newark Earthworks contained in this volume was based on a survey by Charles Whittlesey initiated in 1836.  The map shows the Ohio Canal's path thorough the                 

earthworks as well as the road (modern Newark's West Main Street) running between the major enclosures and cutting through two sets of parallel walls.  The canal diggers breached the square enclosure and the oval embankment surrounding the cluster of burial mounds.  At least one of the burial mounds was destroyed when they dug a canal lock. 

When Squier and Davis finally published their map of Newark, they noted that the

"… ancient lines can now be traced only at intervals, among gardens and outhouses.  …  A few years hence, the residents upon the spot will be compelled to resort to this map, to ascertain the character of the works which occupied the very ground upon which they stand" (Squier and Davis 1848:71)

          When these old maps are compared to recent aerial photographs it is clear that, for large parts of the Newark Earthworks, it is just as Squier and Davis feared.  Although Squier and Davis correctly predicted what would happen to much of the Newark Right- a modern aerial view of the Octagon Complex
Earthworks,
they were overly pessimistic. 
A few far-sighted citizens of Newark worked to try to preserve parts of this wonder of the ancient world.                                  

They found surprising ways to make the prehistoric monuments a part of the contemporary landscape.

 

Great Circle

            The Great Circle was preserved thanks to the efforts of Nathan Seymour and the Licking County Agricultural Society.  Nathan Seymour, the owner of the Great Circle in the early 19th century, did not allow the interior of the enclosure to be plowed;  nor did he cut the old growth trees within the sanctuary of the circular walls.

            A reporter from a Columbus newspaper, writing in 1877, declared that "Licking county can rightfully lay claim to the finest Fair Grounds, all things considered, in the State."  He remarked upon the "splendid shade trees," the excellent display of stock, and the extravagantly beautiful Floral Hall, but he was especially charmed by the mysterious "circular earthwork overlooking the track and grounds."  The Great Circle, or the "Old Fort" as it was called back then, was always the main attraction of Licking County's fairgrounds from the park's opening in 1854 until it finally closed in 1933. 

            The agricultural society built a half-mile-long racetrack inside the circle, a large grandstand for viewing the sulky races, and several additional buildings for livestock and other attractions.  The celebrated floral exhibits building was octagonal in plan and built around a large oak tree.  Perhaps the architect had been inspired by the shape of the Octagon Earthworks barely a mile away.  A visitor from Buffalo, New York wrote, in excessively flowery prose, that this elegant structure, "tastefully decked and intertwined with evergreens," was "presided over by rustic beauties, the bloom upon whose cheeks might vie with the classic Hebe."  The same writer turned contemplative while standing upon the mounds amid the bustle of the fairgrounds:   "I could not but moralize over the instability of man's plans.  How unlooked for the present use of this structure by its founders."

Ellen Hayes, a pioneering woman astronomer and mathematician who grew up in Licking County, remembered going to fairs as a young girl.  In her book, Wild Turkeys and Tallow Candles, she remarked that using the Great Circle for the fairgrounds was like "holding a bazaar at Stonehenge."  She said that for most of the people who attended the fairs, the ancient earthworks were a "'curiosity' – which is quite different from saying that they were curious about its history and purpose."

 The reporter from Columbus described some of the lesser curiosities offered to fair-goers during the 1877 season.  These included "the wonderful pig," "performing snakes,"  "a choice selection of monkeys, some wonderful automatons, and the 'largest fat woman in the world.'"

   The many attractions and amenities of the Licking County Fair Grounds were shown off to the entire state when the agricultural society hosted the Ohio State Fair in 1854.  In 1861, the fair was suspended while the Great Circle became, at least temporarily, an actual fort.  The Great Circle served as Camp John Sherman, the training camp for the 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment. 

Thirteen years after the war veterans of the 76th hosted a "Grand Re-Union of the Veteran Soldiers and Sailors of Ohio" at Newark's fairgrounds.  The Great Circle became the setting for a modern ceremony that nearly ended in disaster.  A speaker's platform had been built on Eagle Mound so that the dignitaries, which included President Rutherford B. Hayes, General James A. Garfield, General William T. Sherman, Governor Richard M. Bishop, and others, could be seen and heard by the estimated 15-20,000 people thronged within the ancient enclosure.  Part way through the program, the platform began to collapse and President Hayes and General Sherman, according to an account published in the Cincinnati Enquirer, "only saved themselves by springing forward out of their chairs, which tumbled back into the ruins."  Fortunately, Newark did not become infamous on that day for accidentally killing a president.

Buffalo Bill came to the fairgrounds on Monday October 13th, 1884.  According to the Advocate reporter "several thousand persons witnessed the grand parade."  Those who attended the show saw cowboys, scouts, shootists, buffalo, Big Horn sheep, Texas steers, and "Brawny Braves of Bloody Records."  The handbill for the show claimed it had the "largest delegation of wild Indians brought east."   During a later visit to Newark, Buffalo Bill told a reporter for the Newark Daily Adovcate that the Newark Earthworks were “the most wonderful mounds in existence.”   No one apparently thought to record what the western Indians thought about the earthworks built by their ancient brethren.

In 1898, James Lingafelter, a local banker, established Idlewilde Park as a summer resort at the fair grounds.  Idlewilde Park was central Ohio's premiere amusement park throughout the next decade.  The attractions included a Ferris wheel, a "Switchback Railroad" (what we know call a roller coaster), casino, theater, bowling alleys, shooting galleries, dancing pavilion, billiard hall, four ponds with boating and swimming, and a "European" hotel and restaurant.  The racetrack, built for sulky racing, also was used for horse racing and, after World War I, bicycle, motorcycle, and even automobile racing.  Nevertheless, in spite of these many and varied attractions, the promoters of Idlewilde Park declared that its "crowning glory" was the "mysterious 'Old Fort.'" 

In 1903, Idlewilde Park opened under new management.   Buckeye Lake Park opened in 1902 taking much of the business away from Newark and Lingafelter ran into some legal difficulties, eventually involving some 128 counts of forgery, embezzlement, making false reports, and stealing.  Things were never the same for Idlewilde Park and 1924 is the last time that name appears in the Newark City Directory.  For a brief period in 1910 the site was listed as Rigel Park, but after 1925 it became Mound Builders Park.  The last county fair was held there in 1933 and in October of that year the County Commissioners deeded the Great Circle to the Ohio Historical Society.  With help from the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) the historical society removed the last remnants of the fairgrounds and restored the earthworks to their original condition, or at least to the condition it was in when first described by Squier and Davis.  Indeed, a few of the restorations may have adhered too slavishly to Squier and Davis' descriptions. 

For example, the small crescentic earthwork located southwest of Eagle Mound is only shown on Squier and Davis' map and even Squier and Davis admitted it was only "slightly elevated" and could "hardly be traced." 
When Greenman was excavating Eagle Mound he dug a long trench to the southwest searching for any traces of the crescent.  He found no evidence to suggest that such an earthwork
Right- The Eagle Mound
had ever existed.  But, since Squier and Davis mapped it, it has been "restored" and may be viewed to this day.

Octagon Earthworks                                                                      

            Farmers had been plowing over parts of the octagonal enclosure since at least 1848.  Squier and Davis' map, which dates to that year, showed the forest retreating southward across the site before the onslaught of the insatiable plow.  The city of Newark rescued the octagon and its circle from oblivion in 1892 when certain civic-minded individuals purchased the earthworks and presented them to Newark to offer to the State of Ohio if the Ohio State Militia (now the National Guard) would make the site their official encampment.  The state agreed to the plan and between 1893 and 1896 the National Guard occupied the site and worked to restore the Octagon Earthworks to their former glory.  During the summers as many as 3500 soldiers camped within the circle.  They mounted cannons on the walls and so likely contributed to the popular misconception that the earthworks were ancient fortifications. 

By 1908 the State Militia had outgrown the Octagon Earthworks and they moved to another location returning the property to the City of Newark.  With the departure of the State Militia, many members of the community wanted the earthworks to become a city park, but a group of prominent business leaders proposed turning it into a private country club.  The city had no funds to develop and maintain the property as a park and the country club agreed to keep the grounds open to the public.  So the Newark Board of Trade leased the property to Moundbuilders County Club which opened in June of 1911.  In 1933 the Newark Board of Trade was dissolved and the County Commissioners of Licking County transferred ownership of the Octagon Earthworks (or "Country Club Grounds") to the Ohio Historical Society.  

 

Wright Earthworks

The Wright Earthworks preserve a small remnant of a square earthwork that originally enclosed twenty acres.   In addition, the park preserves a short segment of wall that originally formed part of a grand avenue leading northeast to the oval enclosure surrounding about twelve burial mounds.  Other sets of walls led from the square to the Great Circle Earthworks and the Octagon Earthworks.

Farming and the building of the Ohio Canal and the streets and houses of the city of Newark destroyed much of the square enclosure and its associated mounds.  Mrs. Frances Rees Wright donated these remnants of the Newark Earthworks to the Ohio Historical Society in 1934.

 

The Legacy of the Hopewell culture

 

            The Newark Earthworks are truly a wonder of the ancient world.  It is regrettable that so much of this monumental earthwork complex has been destroyed, but we still can marvel at what has been saved.  The Great Circle is the best preserved of any Hopewell geometric earthwork.  You can walk through the gateway and into the massive circular enclosure and be unaware that you are surrounded by the bustling cites of Newark and Heath.  Octagon Earthworks are currently a golf course and the embankments are manicured and criss-crossed by golf greens and cart paths, but the majesty and geometrical precision of these earthworks is nonetheless clearly evident. 
 

                                                                                viewing the interior of  The Octagon , taken atop one of the Octagon's outer wall

 The Wright Earthworks are small remnants of parts of the Newark Earthworks that have not fared so well.  They are poignant reminders of the magnitude of the loss to our ancient heritage.  Together these earthworks embody the enduring legacy of the Hopewell culture and our successes and failures at being good stewards of that legacy.

 

Preservation and Parks: an Historical Perspective

     The story of how Octagon State Memorial came to be occupied by a golf course is tied to the developing story of preservation in the United States.  The idea of "state parks" or "national parks" whether for natural areas or historic sites is only about a century old, but the history of local preservation at Newark goes back even further.  Leaders like former mayor Israel Dille and historian Isaac Smucker in the 1800ís began a discussion that traces all the way back to comments recorded from Sen. Daniel Webster, suggesting that the Newark Earthworks be preserved in some fashion with support from the federal government.

With the National Park Service not formally established until after 1900, the model for preserving sites such as Yellowstone or Serpent Mound was a combination of mixed use and private group partnership, with military training grounds a common way to have personnel and resources used to maintain open land that was not farmed.  Private groups bought Serpent Mound and Fort Ancient in the late 1800ís, but the urgent question was "how will we manage this property?"

Until the concept of a park service, interpretive guides, and civic support of budgeting for park management was developed, largely in the period immediately following World War I, a variety of concepts were tried to answer the question of parkland management.  Leasing to a country club, like similar arrangements at the turn of the century for leasing public lands to amusement park operators or state militia groups, was one of a variety of approaches that made sense at the time.

The public debate over land management and access continues today, at the Octagon and other sites around the nation.

 

For a more in-depth discussion of these issues, see PRESERVATION AND PARKS
 

 


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