Preservationists are working to save 2,000-year-old earthworks in Butler County

Local earthworks that Hopewell Indians built 2,000 years ago may be in jeopardy because they are on a property scheduled to be auctioned to settle an estate, an advocate for their preservation told Hamilton City Council on Wednesday.

The earthworks, known as “Fortified Hill Works,” were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, Dr. Jeff Leipzig told the council.

They not only are important as a cultural treasure, but with the possibility of Fort Ancient and other sites of the same period being considered as UNESCO World Heritage sites, the earthworks can attract tourists from around the globe, he and others believe.

Although the earthworks, which occupy nearly 17 acres, are in Ross Twp., Leipzig made his presentation about them to Hamilton’s council because of the tourism they can bring to the city. They are near the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum, another tourist attraction.

The earthworks are part of a much larger farm that was owned by prominent Hamilton dermatologist Dr. Louis Luke Barich, who died Jan. 7 at age 89. Leipzig said he often heard Barich and his wife, Donna Barich, say how much they wanted to preserve the earthworks.

Leipzig said Barich, who worked until the day he died, never included in his will that such preservation should happen. To settle the estate, US Bank of Hamilton plans to auction off the property Sept. 28 at 10:30 a.m. at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, Leipzig said. Barich’s estate has 18 beneficiaries, none in Butler County, Leipzig said.

Council members thanked Leipzig for the information.

The Ohio History Connection, formerly known as the Ohio Historical Society, is sending Bradley Lepper, its curator of Archaeology, to study the site. Representatives from the Cincinnati Museum Center, the Butler County Historical Society and other organizations plan to visit the site Friday, as well.

The Ohio History Connection in May wrote US Bank expressing “our fullest support for the permanent conservation of the Butler County prehistoric archaeological earthworks site known as Fortified Hill Works.”

The letter called the well-maintained integrity of the Fortified Hill Works “a testament to the interests of past ownership in its protection and care.”

Leipzig, an allergist who grew up in Hamilton and was interested in history as a youngster, said he remembers reading in the Journal-News about the earthworks when he was a student.

“It was designed for a purpose that we really don’t know,” Leipzig told the council. “But it was built by hand. These people took weaved baskets, and by hand built this place. And the society we know very little about, but they lived in this valley.”

A World Heritage designation would include the earthworks in the company of the Pyramids of ancient Egypt, the Parthenon in Greece and the Grand Canyon.

“There’s a wealth of archaeological information that’s on this site,” Leipzig said. “The archaeology community wants to preserve and protect this site.”

“I’m asking the question, because I don’t have an answer, and that is, ‘What should we do about it?’”l.

Leipzig said Fortified Hill was prominent enough that it was 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 written about in the Journal-News back in the 1920s,” he said.

And the late Hamilton historian Jim Blount, a former Journal-News editor, also wrote about it, he said.

“If this goes through, and the World Heritage site goes through for the others, we could be bringing people all over the world into Hamilton to see the site. That’s how important it is,” said Kathy Creighton, executive director of the Butler County Historical Society.

The May 10, 2019 letter from three officials to the bank states, “Such a well-preserved, privately owned site with the significance of Fortified Hill Works is very rare in present day Ohio.”

“We respectfully request that your bank consider the significance of this property to the State of Ohio’s American Indian past as you seek to settle the state,” it said.

The site first was surveyed in 1836 by James McBride, who was Hamilton’s first mayor.

The three officials signing the letter were World Heritage Director Jennifer Altman, Curator of Archaeology Bradley Lepper and State Historic Preservation Office Director Amanda Terrell.

“It’s big,” Creighton said about the scale of the nearly 17-acre earthworks.

“Butler County is No. 2 in the state for earthworks and mounds,” she said. “Only behind Ross (where Chillicothe is located). But unfortunately, most of what is in Butler County has been destroyed. There were mounds and earthworks right here in the city, but it’s all been built upon.”

A new state historical marker will be dedicated Oct. 19 on Reily Millville Road in Hanover Township recognizing the Native American mounds and earthworks throughout the county, she said.


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