Tremper Mound Earthworks – Scioto County

The 707-acre Tremper Mound campaign is comprised of FOUR land acquisitions, including Huckleberry Ridge, and the creation of a new regional stewardship hub to serve wildlands protection in the southern Ohio River region. 

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 unification of Tremper Mound under a single preservation organization, the Arc of Appalachia, is a historic event. For the first time since the European immigrants set foot in the Ohio valley, this globally-significant site is unified, enduringly protected and soon to be publicly accessible.

Tremper Mound Preserve is GROWING!! In year two of Tremper Mound’s development as one of the Arc’s newest and most stellar preserves, the Arc of Appalachia has been given an opportunity to further expand the preserve on its southern boundary with a fourth acquisition. We are now in contract to buy, contingent on funding, an 85-acre property known as Huckleberry Ridge. The land is steep-sided forested hills with stunning panoramas of the Little Smokies of Ohio. Click here for detailed campaign information.

Tremper Mound is a world significant historic site, and one of the most famous of the Hopewell Culture’s earthworks. The Mound was constructed roughly 2000 years ago along the Scioto River which borders a mile of the preserve’s eastern boundary. 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. Tremper Mound is one of the few standing reminders of the architectural scale and grandeur achieved by the Hopewell Culture’s engineering feats. Its preservation honors our land’s rich indigenous legacies.

Spectacular Animal Platform Pipes. 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. Nearly 100 of the pipes had been carved 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 include animals as stunningly beautiful as wood ducks, as intriguing as vultures, and as modest as toads and turtles. When smoked, the smoker stared into the eyes of his or her animal brothers and sisters. 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.

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 for a long time, we were unaware of any funding mechanism sufficient for the task. Adding to our challenges was the fact that although the Matthews owned most of the mound, they did not own all of it. The boundaries of two two-acre house sites, each separately owned, penetrated the embankment walls that encircled the mound, their boundaries marked by barbed wire pasture fences.

A Disrupted Past and an Uncertain Future. It seemed for a long time that Tremper Mound risked following the same slow demise as Ohio’s other 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. Already one of the house site owners had used heavy equipment to demolish the wall that ran through their backyard. The greatest intrusion to Tremper Mound occurred back in 1915 when the mound underwent extensive excavation and then was afterward rebuilt. Since 1915, the entire feature has been nearly leveled by agricultural plowing. 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. The Arc finally devised a very risky funding plan to purchase the 618-acre farm through the Ohio EPA’s WRRSP funding program. To achieve winning scores on the application, both Pond Creek which dissected the farm, and the lower Scioto that bordered it, had to meet the EPA’s requirements for exceptional warmwater designation. Trouble is EPA’s records designated both waterways at a lesser ranking. Nevertheless, encouraged by our aquatic biologist friends, we privately contracted to have the waters studied, and to our delight, both waterways – for the first time in their history – qualified for the exceptional warmwater designation. Lengthy applications were then submitted to WRRSP as well as Clean Ohio to help fund the immense costs of Tremper Mound Farm’s acquisition and development. Both grants were successfully awarded and Tremper Mound preserve is currently in its development phase as fund-raising for its stewardship and the acquisition of adjacent properties continues.

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 ownership. Both house sites’ barbed wire fencing that crossed the embankment wall, visibly dividing it. 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 house sites contacted us to see if we were interested in purchasing them before they went on the public market. Indeed we were interested!! 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 to make an expenditure of this size, but we nevertheless borrowed the funds to secure them both at a total cost of half 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 what was once a fragmented landscape. The brick house is now our Preserve Manager’s residence, and the 1950’s elegant 4000-square foot manor house is currently being developed into a residential education center.

Tremper Mound in context with Portsmouth
Examples of the exquisite animal platform pipes created by the Hopewell Culture. Photo kindly shared by Peter Bolstrom.
Aerial view from Huckleberry Hill, looking westward. Photo by Brian Prose.

Aerial view from Huckleberry Hill, looking westward. Photo by Brian Prose.

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.