Spruce Hill Earthworks

270 Acres in Ross County

 

A Nationally Significant Archaeological Feature. Spruce Hill is best known for the stone wall that was built two thousand years ago by the Native American Hopewell Culture that outlines the rim of the steep-sided flat-topped hill and demarcates what was surely ancient ceremonial space. Spruce Hill is also renowned for its showy spring wildflowers, high botanical diversity, upland wetlands, steep bluffs, and breath-taking vistas of Paint Valley as seen from the ridge. In 2008, with the help of Clean Ohio funding and emergency fund-raising, Spruce Hill was successfully saved from the auction block. Click here to read the entire protection story. .The broad vista of Paint Creek’s wide floodplain as viewed from the top of bluffs of the flat ridgetop is likely the reason the Hopewell people chose this prominent large, flat ridge for their ceremonial grounds.  Spruce HiIl boasts the largest Hopewell hilltop earthworks ever discovered discovered in Ohio, the epicenter of a culture with significant geographical influence, a region where nearly every Hopewell ridgetop earthwork was built.

Dense Spring Wildflower Display. The Spruce Hill property includes a portion of the steep forested hillsides that encircle the ridgetop mesa. The steep bluffs are covered in young hickories, maples, and oaks. The understory boasts a classic assemblage of Appalachian forest wildflowers — offering dense displays of Wild Ramps, Wild Hyacinth, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Celandine Wood Poppy, Fire Pinks, Rue Anemone, Dwarf Larkspurs, and Spring Beauties, as well as three species of trilliums Large-flowered, Drooping, and Sessile Trilliums. The bluffs give refuge to rarer species, too, such as Zigzag Spiderwort and Cranefly Orchids. Our staff once witnessed 54 individual Puttyroot Orchid plants all in one location, all of which were in bloom.  A total of 300 plant species have been recorded for the tract, which is extremely high for just one property that has only been casually inventoried. Spruce trees do not grown on Spruce Hill. The namesake either refers to the formerly abundant Virginia Pines that were previously logged from its hillsides, or to the small patches of hemlock trees that still cling to the lower elevations.

Swamp White Oak Wetlands. An unusual upland swamp forest community surrounds a very old vernal pool on top of the flat ridge of Spruce Hill –  an important resource for breeding populations of native amphibians, such as Ambystoma salamanders, wood frogs, and spring peepers. The origin of the pool is unknown but we find it interesting that Fort Hill, another large Hopewell Culture ridgetop earthworks that lies not far away to the southwest, has a very similar-looking wetlands within its enclosure as well. 

 

 

This 19th century drawing of Spruce Hill shows the central wetlands on the large flat ridge top.
Photo courtesy of Tim Pholar.