Hill State Memorial, Ohio.
Ohio — Fort Hill State Memorial is a place with
is home to some of the best hiking in the state,
interesting geology and rare plants in a surprisingly wild
corner of southwest Ohio. It is also home to ancient and
little-known Indian earthworks, which are the biggest
a lot of options at the 1,300-acre site that is owned by
the Ohio Historical Society and managed by the Arc of
Appalachia Preserve, a grass-roots group.
trail every visitor should hike is the 2.2-mile Fort
Trail, which will take you to the plateau-top earthworks
in southeastern Highland County.
Hill is home to one of the best-preserved Indian hilltop
enclosures in North America, a structure built at least
1,500 years ago. The earthworks were built on the
flat-topped ridge by the Hopewell Indians between 300 B.C.
and A.D. 500.
stretch 1.5 miles and the 34 sections encompass 35 acres
atop the hill, which is isolated with steep slopes. In
places, the wall sections are 15 to 20 feet high and are
irregularly spaced, with 33 gateways.
Hopewell culture is known for its immense geometric
earthworks built in Ohio floodplains in the shape of
precise circles, squares and octagons. Often these
enclosures encircled burial and ceremonial grounds.
Thousands were built in southern Ohio, although most have
been wiped out.
you see now at Fort Hill are earthen banks from 6 to 15
feet high and three shallow pits where the dirt came from.
Not all are easy to spot amid the trees and vegetation.
Many visitors on the main trail walk right through a
gateway without realizing it.
best time to visit is late fall through early spring, when
the leaves are off the trees and the view from the top is
the least obstructed.
Fort Hill earthworks were initially thought to be a
fortress because they were atop high ground. But that is
now seen as unlikely because the trenches are inside the
earthworks, not outside, and because of the size of the
enclosure, experts say.
makes it more likely that it was used for religious,
ceremonial or social purposes, they say. But no one knows
for sure. No artifacts have been found inside the
is one of perhaps a half dozen similar hilltop earthworks
built by Hopewell Indians in southern Ohio. They include
Fort Ancient in Warren County, Fort Miami in Hamilton
County and Spruce Hill in Ross County.
appears that the Hopewells built circular earthworks not
far from Fort Hill in the Brush Creek Valley to the south.
It is accessible to Fort Hill visitors off the Buckeye
Trail at the southern end of the park.
red-blazed Fort Trail is a loop that follows the
earthworks atop the hill and then drops down off the
plateau before returning to the parking lot. It gives you
a chance to see the earthworks up close.
site, acquired by the state in 1932, is on the National
Register of Historic Places and is a National Natural
1952 to 1954, Raymond Baby of the Ohio Historical Society
directed excavations near the base of the hill. There were
two circular earthworks there and many artifacts were
found in surrounding fields, leading archaeologists to
believe a village was there.
well-preserved earthwork forms a circular walled enclosure
with a diameter of 170 feet and a height of 2.5 to 3 feet.
a Hopewell bladelet was found in the mound, it is believed
that the mound is about 2,000 years old.
have discovered two concentric circles of postholes
directly beneath the circular earthworks, but there are no
supporting posts in the middle of the enclosure. The
original structure may have looked more like a fenced wall
or an arbor than a roofed building.
also found evidence of a second structure. The rectangular
building measured 180 feet by 60 feet and included central
support posts. It may have been an artisan workshop or
short-term habitation for visitors to Fort Hill
ceremonies, according to some.
found two small fire pits and artifacts, including
Hopewell pottery, flint tools and mica fragments. Many of
the flakes of flint came from Harrison County, Ind.
was also a knife or spear point of obsidian, a shiny black
volcanic rock. It was later determined that the rock came
from Obsidian Cliff at Yellowstone National Park in
Wyoming, and the artifact was made about 300 A.D.
1964, Olaf Prufer of Kent State University excavated a
trench through the Fort Hill embankment. He also dug
several pits within the enclosure to search for evidence
of what the Hopewells might have been doing at Fort Hill,
but he found no artifacts.
discovered the Hopewells built Fort Hill in two stages.
They first built a wall of earth and stone, then covered
the inner part with large, flat sandstone slabs.
later, the Hopewells built an inner wall of stones piled
closely together. They added more earth and stone until
the inner and outer walls combined into one wall. Finally,
they placed a layer of sandstone slabs over the entire
Hill has 11 miles of rugged trails, including the 4.1-mile
Gorge Trail, the two-mile Canby’s Mountain Lover Trail
and the 1.2-mile Deer Trail. The trails, in some cases,
feature steep climbs and stream crossings.
Gorge Trail — rocky and rooted and often slippery —
includes three natural stone bridges or arches of dolomite
over Baker Fork, as well as a stop at the hilltop
earthworks, cliffs and outcroppings.
Buckeye Trail, the North Country National Trail and the
American Discovery Trail all wind through the preserve.
The trails are rugged, so hikers should be in moderate to
trails may be closed in late fall during deer gun season;
Hill is one of the oldest and largest examples of native
forest in southern Ohio. It lies at the western edge of
the Appalachian Plateau and marks the border in Ohio
between areas once covered by glaciers and those that
escaped the giant ice sheets.
soil on the hillsides is acidic; that along the streams is
alkaline. The result is an ecologically diverse region
that is home to seven major plant communities, rare and
endangered plants and animals.
2009, the Bainbridge-based Arc of Appalachia Preserve took
over management of Fort Hill and the nearby Serpent Mound
State Memorial from the money-strapped Ohio Historical
Society. It offers programs and hikes at Fort Hill
throughout the year.
small museum at Fort Hill State Memorial is open from 10
a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends from May to October. Admission is
free. Hours are dawn to dusk daily.
get to the memorial, take U.S. 50 west from Chillicothe or
east from Hillsboro. Go south seven miles on state Route
753. At state Route 41, turn right and go south a
half-mile to the entrance to the memorial in Brush Creek
Township. The site is five miles north of Sinking Springs
and three miles south of Cynithiana, about 3 ½ hours from
information, go to