Tremper Mound Earthworks – 

622 acres in Scioto County

Total Project Cost: $3,923,224 

Campaign Completion: 72%

Balance Remaining 11/30/2021: $1,070,041

The Miraculous Story of how the Broken Pieces of Tremper Mound are Coming Back Together Again

Tremper Mound is the most deserving of preservation of all of Ohio’s unprotected earthworks. Tremper Mound is also one of the most famous. The Mound was constructed roughly 2000 years ago along the Scioto River by the indigenous Hopewell Culture. The solitary Mound lies just four miles north of what was once an immense Hopewell ceremonial complex developed on both banks of the Ohio River known today as the Portsmouth Works. This once grand complex of promenades, walls, and mounds on the north side of the Ohio River now lies buried beneath the city of Portsmouth. This fact that makes it even more important to preserve Tremper Mound as a reminder of the architectural scale and grandeur achieved by the Hopewell Culture – helping to honor our land’s rich indigenous legacies.

Spectacular Animal Platform Pipes. Early historians once believed that Tremper mound was originally constructed in the shape of an animal. However, an excavation in 1915 discovered that the mound’s conformation mirrors the shape of the many chambered structures housing ancient burials and cremation ashes under the mounded layers of earth. The 1915 excavation that explored the mound unearthed a truly magnificent and unexpected find – one of only two caches of animal effigy pipes ever discovered in the larger Hopewell landscape. A stunning total of 136 platform pipes were uncovered, most of them in the shape of the common wildlife species with whom the Hopewell peoples shared their world.

Sacred Relations. The animals selected by the carvers of the Hopewell pipes were not only powerful animals such as panthers and bears, nor were they only animals valued for food and sustenance. Significantly, the pipes illustrated the wide ecological and sacred relationships the people had with their animal relations. The pipes includes animals as stunningly beautiful as wood ducks, as intriguing as vultures, and as modest as toads and turtles. To our knowledge, no culture anywhere in the world has so prominently paid artistic tribute to the wild animals with whom they shared their world. The Tremper pipes were the only effigy pipe collection to be retained inside the borders of our state and country and today the pipes reside in the archives of the Ohio History Connection.

How could Tremper Mound ever be put back together again? For eight long years, the Arc mused and strategized ways to preserve Tremper Mound. It appeared to be an improbable if not an impossible mission. Over 2/3 of the mound was part of the 618-acre Matthews Farm owned by three siblings. Although the family members were willing to sell the land to the right buyer and they very much wanted to see the mound protected, they also did not want to break up the farm. We knew it would take nearly $2 million dollars to buy a farm of this size, and we were unaware of any funding mechanism sufficient for the task. adding to our challenges were the fact that although the Matthews owned most of the mound, they did not own all of it. The boundaries of two separate house sites, each separately owned, penetrated the moat and walls that encircled the mound, their boundaries marked by barbed wire pasture fences.

A Disrupted Past and an Uncertain Future. It seemed the recent history of Tremper Mound was running along the similar story lines as nearly all of Ohio’s earthworks. If the monuments were not already destroyed outright by development, they were, at best, broken up among multiple owners, often with only small remnants surviving. The greatest intrusion to Tremper Mound occurred back in 1915, when the mound underwent extensive excavation and then was afterward rebuilt. Although the original wall and moat surrounding the mound have been nearly leveled due to years of agricultural plowing, their foundations show up clearly on archaeological ground penetration radar tests. It could have gone worse for Tremper Mound . Years ago a larger housing development had been planned for the site. Fortuitously, the plans never consummated. As earthworks go in Ohio, Tremper was luckier than most.

A Funding Plan Comes Together. Four years ago, the Arc devised a tentative funding plan to purchase the 618 acre farm. The idea was to engage Ohio EPA’s  Water Resource Restoration Sponsorship Funding Program (WRRSP). However, to have a competitive application, the waters of Pond Creek that dissected the heart of the farm and  the Scioto River that bordered the farm’s east boundary had to BOTH be designated by EPA as exceptional warmwater. Unfortunately, the EPA had not done so in either case. Based on the counsel of aquatic field biologists, we had a hunch we could prove otherwise. Pond Creek had never been formally tested by inside the farm’s well-forested relatively pristine boundaries, and nearly the entire Scioto was showing demonstrative water quality improvement in the last 5-10 years. It was time to do some serious water testing.

Two Grants Sought. And so, in the summer of 2019, we took the big risk of contracting Midwest Biodiversity Institute –  arguably the most expert water testing field researchers and laboratory in Ohio and beyond  – to perform the detailed tests that Ohio EPA required for an updated assessment. When the high scores came in later that summer, we were jubilant. Both Pond Creek and the lower Scioto met the requirements of exceptional warmwater designation!!  Lengthy applications were then submitted to both WRRSP as well as Clean Ohio to help fund the immense Tremper Mound Farm’s acquisition. We are happy to announce that both grants have been awarded!

The Miraculous Reunification of Tremper Mound. So far, saving Tremper Mound had been mostly been about dogged persistence and step by step problem solving. But unknown to us at the time, a series of miracles were about to begin. Late in 2020, prior to the distribution of grant monies, we were notified that the modest brick house on the northeast corner of the mound was about to be listed on the market. Although buying houses on small lots was far from being one of our land buying priorities, we decided not to argue this time with good fortune. We were, of course, reluctant making an expenditure of this size, but we nevertheless borrowed the funds to secure an additional slice of Tremper Mound at the price tag of $175,000. The only portion of the mound now remaining in private hands was the 2-acre parcel that had been developed in the 1950’s with an elegant 4000-square foot manor house.  The residence was constructed well off the road and commanded the mound by actually facing it. All we could do was to accept that in the world of preservation, imperfection is an inevitable part of the journey.

The last piece comes together. Then, early in 2021, just a few months following our acquisition of the brick house, the most amazing thing happened. The owners of the manor house announced that unless we wanted to purchase the property, an unexpected change in their life circumstances was prompting them to contact a realtor in the near future and list the property. Did we want the house? Yes we did!  And so, in May of 2021, we borrowed more money yet to purchase the property, this time the much larger sum of $300,000, an amount which completely emptied the evolving fund we use for emergency loans.

Long term Management and Protection. The Arc of Appalachia will be the site’s long-term owner and manager. The campaign includes raising funds for land acquisition, visitor services, and long term stewardship of the preserve. Tremper Mound will be protected by very strict protective covenants put on the property put in place by Clean Ohio and Ohio EPA. An additional easement on the property will be given to Heartland Earthworks Conservancy to permanently protect the historic features on the property.

Who is the Arc of Appalachia? Founded in 1995, the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System is a non-profit organization dedicated to land preservation. Our work includes acquiring and stewarding wildlands in the Ohio region; creating sanctuaries where people can connect with the natural world; teaching about our forest heritage to inspire a global conservation ethic; and honoring, in our work and our teachings, our Native American legacies. As of 2021/2022, we have raised over $22 million for wildlands preservation – today protecting and managing over 7000 acres of nature preserves in 22 preserve regions in Appalachian Ohio.

Tremper Mound in context with Portsmouth
Portsmouth Works as surveyed by Squire and Davis in mid-1800's
Remnants of Portsmouth Works in Red. Courtesy of Shawnee State.

The remains of the once grand Portsmouth Works are shown in red. The blue features were leveled and buried years ago under the town of Portsmouth. Photo supplied by Shawnee State.

Examples of the exquisite animal platform pipes created by the Hopewell Culture. Photo kindly shared by Peter Bolstrom.
Examples of the exquisite animal platform pipes created by the Hopewell Culture. Photo kindly shared by Peter Bolstrom.
The re-unification of Tremper Mound requiring three property acquisitions. Background map provided courtesy of Jarrod Burks
Charles Whittlesey’s 1840’s map of the Tremper Mound and Earthworks

What other earthworks has the Arc helped save? In March 2014 the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System, along with a strong coalition of non-profits – The Archaeological Conservancy, Heartland Earthworks Conservancy, and Rivers Unlimited – made the successful purchase of Junction Earthworks in Chillicothe, Ohio, buying the land at the auction block after a dramatic 8-day campaign. Today the Arc owns and manages this193-acre preserve. With the significant help and leadership from The Archaeological Conservancy, The Arc expanded the preserve in 2017 by adding the 68-acre Hopewell complex known as Steel Earthworks.  Today the two sites are connected with a public hiking path creating ONE united preserve. Click here to learn more about Junction and Steel. The Arc also helped save Spruce Hill Earthworks in Ross County, Ohio, which the Arc today owns and operates, and a significant portion of Glenford Fort Earthworks in Perry County, Ohio, which was donated to Perry County Soil and Water District. The Arc manages Fort Hill Earthworks on behalf of the Ohio History Connection.

For more information on the campaign, click on tabs above, and/or contact Seth Oglesby, Office Manager for the Arc of Appalachia, at info@arcofappalchia.org or call 937-365-1935.