Tremper Mound Earthworks – 

A new 707-acre nature preserve in Scioto County

Total Project Cost: $7,423,755; Balance to Raise: $3,078,755

Tremper Mound protects a world-significant 2000-year old Hopewell Earthwork near Portsmouth, Ohio. The Tremper Mound campaign is comprised of FOUR land acquisitions (the latest being Huckleberry Ridge) and the creation of a new regional stewardship hub to serve and expand wildlands protection in the southern Ohio River region.

Tremper Mound Preserve is GROWING!! In the second year of Tremper Mound’s development as one of the Arc’s newest and most stellar preserves, the Arc of Appalachia was given an opportunity to further expand the preserve on its southern boundary with a fourth acquisition – an 85-acre property known as Huckeberry Ridge. Click here for more information on this heady opportunity and what it means for visitors and the Arc’s preservation mission.

Tremper Mound is the most deserving of preservation of all of Ohio’s unprotected earthworks. Tremper Mound is also one of the most famous of the Hopewell Cultures artistic achievements. 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. Finally the Arc devised a tentative funding plan to purchase the 618 acre farm through the Ohio EPA’s WRRSP funding program. To achieve wining scores on the applicaiton, both Pond Creek and the lower Scioto had to meet the requirements of exceptional warmwater designation. That summer we contarcted the water studies and to our delight, both waterways – for the first time in their history – earned the necessary designation. Lengthy applications were then submitted to both WRRSP as well as Clean Ohio to help fund the immense costs of Tremper Mound Farm’s acquisition. Both grants were awarded and Tremper Mound preserve is currently in its development phase. 

The Miraculous Reunification of Tremper Mound. So far, we had managed to fund the protection of 2/3 of the mound, but the remaining third was still in private owership, and both of them were fenced across the mound and developed with houses. A series of miracles, however, were about to begin. Within five months of the purchase of the large Matthew’s farm, the owners of both housesites contacted us to see if we were interested in purchasing them before they went public. Indeed we were!! 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 usual land buying priorities, we decided not to argue with Lady Luck. We were, of course, reluctant making an expenditure of this size, but we nevertheless borrowed the funds to secure them both at a cost of a half of a million dollars. THE MOUND IS NOW COMPLETELY RE-UNITED. We have removed the unsightly fences, along with their tangle of invasive plants, and have re-integrated the fragmented landscape into a single whole. The brick house is now our Preserve Manager’s residence, and the 1950’selegant 4000-square foot manor house is being developed into an residential education center.  

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.