EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part II of a series that began last month in a story that can be found at this link.
FREDERICKTOWN -- The price of pioneer progress, in the eyes of the settlers of Knox County, was to remove anything that got in the way of what they wanted to build.
It's easy to criticize that blunt practicality today, but it was deemed necessary in its day. This led to the destruction of much of the ancient history of the region, once very active with Adena mound building activity.
Nowhere is this more evident than in Fredericktown, once a busy local center of the Adena culture thanks to its location near the head of the Kokosing River, the upper reaches of the entire Muskingum River watershed. In an age when rivers were the main highways, the Kokosing was one of the main routes through central Ohio, and the area around Fredericktown flourished.
The Adena culture thrived from about 1,000 B.C. up to roughly 200 B.C. After that, their distinct culture was gradually replaced by the Hopewell culture. The Hopewell culture, however, was less widespread, and there is little evidence of a strong Hopewell presence in Knox County.
Evidence of the Adena, though, was once plentiful, with dozens of mounds, earthen walls, and enclosures dotting the landscape. Even after a century of vigorous development, the Ohio Archaeological Society was still able to indicate the presence of dozens of mounds in the 1915 atlas. Some of these works can still be found today.
The most prominent earthwork in the Fredericktown area, however, is long gone. It stood precisely where the downtown square of the town sits today.
Reporter R.I. Harvey of The Knox County Citizen wrote an article in 1949 stating that the structure, a three to five foot crescent-shaped wall, was recorded as having originally been 275 feet wide and 300 feet long, its open side lying on the west.
Harvey theorized the structure was used for defense, as its closed side faced east, toward the Kokosing River. But the earthwork was flattened by early settlers who decided they wanted to place their village on that very hill. No trace of the earthwork remains today.
On the far side of the river, on the north side of Montgomery Road, is a large mound that is still in existence, known as the Braddock Mound. This large mound was placed atop the bluff overlooking the Kokosing. Since it survived into modern times, the Braddock Mound was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
An undated article from around 1950 found in the archives of the Fredericktown Historical Society gives the dimensions of the Braddock Mound as 75 feet wide at the base and 30 feet tall, surrounded by a trench and breastwork built from the displaced wall. The article then goes on to a spectacular display of racism with the observation:
“Whether this thrown-up breast-work (sic) was the work of the mound-builder or the indian (sic) that followed him is a matter open for discussion, but the mound itself is beyond question the work of the moundbuilder as the indians (sic) could not have raised ambition enough to move so big a pile of earth.”
DNA studies conducted by the Ohio State University have since indicated that there is a direct line of descent from the Adena to the Hopewell to historical Indian tribes such as the Ojibwa and Kickapoo. The Fort Ancient culture, which followed the Hopewell, represented an influx of new DNA moving into the region, and other historical Indian tribes appear to be their descendants.
While early white pioneers interpreted the native population they discovered as savages incapable of building the impressive mounds found throughout the Ohio Valley, the Fort Ancient culture had prominent earthworks of its own, and was the culture which introduced corn cultivation to this region.
But what the settlers found was a populace that had been devastated first by the environmental chaos caused by the sudden cooling around 1,300 AD known today as the Little Ice Age, followed by the rapid spread of infectious disease after the first contact with Europeans came in the 1500s.
South of the Braddock Mound is (or was) a circular enclosure, and west of that (and south of the structure once on the square in Fredericktown) is the most easily viewable Adena structure in the area, the Rowley Mound, found on the south side of West Mound Street. Fredericktown has grown south to surround the mound, but the original structure survives and thus was added to the National Register in 1975.
Currently covered with a new growth of trees, earlier photographs and accounts indicate that the mound was bare a century ago. A publication by the Fredericktown Historical Society records comments made by the late Merle Grant, who grew up on a farm south of Fredericktown in the 1920s and 30s.
Grant recalled that during family get-togethers, the children would hike west from the farm and turn around atop the Rowley Mound to wave back at family members. He recalled that the mound was completely bare at that time and used as a cattle pasture.
The article by R.I. Harvey says that the surviving mound was somewhat compromised in 1892 when Mr. Rowley, the landowner after whom the mound is now named, dug “100 loads” of dirt out of the mound to use as fill in his yard. In the process, Rowley found two skeletons, though the article does not say what became of them.
Harvey states that these four structures were originally connected by earthen walls, leading him to suggest that they worked as a defensive fort. Modern archaeological opinion tends to lean more toward the probability that such sites were ceremonial in nature. Unfortunately, little of the earthen walls remain to testify to the importance the Fredericktown area once held in the local Adena culture.
Note: The Braddock and Rowley Mounds are visible from the road, but are located on private property. Viewers should not approach the structures without permission.