After weeks of work, group wins auction to preserve 2,000-year-old Butler County earthworks

Local preservationists won an estate property auction Saturday after weeks of fundraising to preserve ancient Native American earthworks in Ross Twp.

The auction was held to sell 20 properties and settle the estate of the late Hamilton dermatologist Dr. Louis Luke Barich. More than 100 people attended the auction at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, with more than 50 people bidding on properties located throughout Butler County.

Auctioneer Myron Bowling said Saturday’s auction had about $2 million in gross sales.

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Some of the properties which did not receive the minimum acceptable bid are subject to negotiation, and Bowling said he has received offers for those properties, which could generate up to $1 million more in sales.

There were multiple properties available in the 500 block of Main Street, near the future Spooky Nook development.

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The 2,000 year-old “Fortified Hill Works” in Ross Twp. first were surveyed in 1836 by James McBride, who also was Hamilton’s first mayor. They were considered so significant that they were included in the first publication by the Smithsonian Institution, “Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley,” written in 1847 by Ephraim Squire and Edwin Davis. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

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The earthworks are large, occupying almost 17 acres, and seem to have been used for ceremonial purposes. But with trees, and invasive-species honeysuckle surrounding them, they were difficult to see.

Nanci Lanni, the daughter of the late Harry Wilks, who founded Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and a longtime friend of Barich, represented a local coalition that successfully bid on the two of the key properties containing the earthworks for more than $575,000 and $545,000 respectively. Lanni said the newly purchased properties would become part of Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park.

Lanni said her father and Barich had talked about making Fortified Hill part of Pyramid Hill.

“Many earthworks have been destroyed by farming and development,” Lanni said. “We wanted to be able to preserve it. Now we’re making both dreams a reality to keep Fortified Hill for future generations.”

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Preservationists are especially enthusiastic about the earthworks now, because other Hopewell works are expected to be added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, which include some of the planet’s most treasured places, such as the Grand Canyon, Pyramids of ancient Egypt and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. The cave is the only member of the list in Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana.

History experts believe that when Fort Ancient and other earthworks created by the Hopewells join the UNESCO list, people from around the globe will visit them, and may add trips to the Fortified Hill works. That hope is increased by the fact the earthworks are located near the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum, and the fact the immense indoor sports complex and convention center, to open in 2021, will attract 10,000 athletes and their families to Hamilton some weekends, and those people will be a pool of possible visitors.

Top Ohio history officials, non-profit preservation organizations and even former state First Lady Hope Taft expressed hope Friday that 2,000-year-old earthworks created by the Native American Hopewell people can be saved for future tourism.

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Paul Gardner, Midwest Regional Director for the Archaeological Conservancy, said his organization worked with the Three Valley Conservation Trust as a clearinghouse to raise the money to make the purchase and said he was pleased.

Dr. Jeff Leipzig, a Hamilton allergist and a friend of Barich, said he helped build a strong coalition and was “overjoyed” about winning the bidding on Saturday.

Dustin McDulin, who was bidding against Lanni for the properties, said he wanted the property for the McDulin family legacy and hoped to keep the homestead and keep it undeveloped.

“I feel bad about bidding the price up but it will had value to the community and there was a happy ending,” he said.

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Seldon Brown successfully bid on the building at 571 Main St. where he’s been working in for the past 14 years.

Brown, a Hamilton native, operates The Little Woodshop on Main, where he rebuilds, refurbishes and repairs furniture, architectural pieces and many other items people take to him for help.

He said he has been trying to purchase the building for the past 12 years from Barich. Brown said he knew Barish since he was 14 years old and called him a friend.

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