Road Trip: Zane’s Trace

Zane's Trace runs through Chillicothe on the way from Wheeling, West Virginia to Maysville, Kentucky.(Photo: Christina Paolucci)
Zane's Trace runs through Chillicothe on the way from Wheeling, West Virginia to Maysville, Kentucky.(Photo: Christina Paolucci)

Zane’s Trace was one of the earliest roads in the state, but the site we’re visiting this week predates that early road.

The Hopewell Culture National Historical Park traces a culture that goes back 12,000 years.

Dick Shiels is the Director of the Newark Earthwork Center. He is an expert on the Hopewell Culture that that was in this part of Ohio between 200 B.C. and A.D. 500.

There were mounds all over Ohio. They are what I call little humpy mounds. That look like hills that were built in what we call the Adena period. Roughly 800 to 300 BC. There were massive geometric enclosures built between 100 BC and 300 AD. Circle squares and polygons and funny shapes that you could walk into.

We know of 600 sites within Ohio where there were earthen enclosures.

“We believe that our best interpretations of these sites is that they were ceremonial sites that people came to from great distances for ceremony,” Shiels says.

That is, to say, they were places of pilgrimage.

The Hopewell Culture National Historical Park preserves earthwork complexes which are on several acres of land right behind the Center. Jeff Gill is a program assistant for the Newark Earthworks Center at the Ohio State University Newark campus.

“Groups followed new ecosystems, following new practices. In the Hopewell period we’re often looking for the confluence of rivers, second terraces with good drainage. Springs just above and nice river valley below.”

Turns out a good place to build a geometric earthwork complex is also a really good place to build a modern American town. People didn’t set out in the early stages, to destroy them. But they built in them.

Archeologists have documented thousands of sites in the Ohio River valley but few have survived intact. The mounds here were threatened, and saved, by one event.

Kevin Coleman is a local historian.

Connected with the Hopewell, for better or worse, is Camp Sherman. That was a large army training camp that was built here during WWI, in 1917. Although, it helped further destroy Mound City here at the park, it also led to its reconstruction and preservation of the park.

1,370 buildings, in an extensive complex, were constructed in the rush to get soldiers trained for the Great War.

Camp Sherman became the 3rd largest training camp in the nation. Before the war was over more than 40,000 soldiers had trained there. After the war the camp was dismantelled and, in 1920, archeological digs began to amass a collection of more than 167,000 Hopewell artifacts.

Today, throughout the Chillicothe area you can find great examples of Native American Earthworks. Some survived the settlers and some are finely constructed re-creations.

You can download an audio tour of Zane’s Trace – A Road into the Wilderness at SeeOhioFirst.org.

The New Ohio Guide is produced by the Ohio Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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