Preservationists, joyful about their success in buying farmland that houses 2,000-year-old Hopewell earthworks have yet to determine what will happen next, the leader of an effort to save them said Monday.
After successfully bidding on two properties, Nanci Lanni, the daughter of Harry Wilks, who founded the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park, told this media outlet they would become part of that park.
The earthworks, whose proponents say may have been used for ceremonies, occupy almost 17 acres. But now covered by trees and invasive-species honeysuckle surrounding them, are difficult to see. Modern-day observers of the earthworks are impressed by the sophistication the prehistoric Native Americans had in creating them.
“We knew we faced a big challenge. For sure,” said Dr. Jeffrey Leipzig, an allergist and protege of Hamilton dermatologist Dr. Louis Luke Barich, who died in January and owned the properties, which were among 20 sold at auction Saturday at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts. Leipzig organized the effort to save the earthworks.
Paul Gardner, Midwest director of The Archaeological Conservancy, said that nationally, conservation groups typically only prevail about 25 percent of the time when attempting to buy land to save a cultural asset. Gardner’s group about a month ago pledged $100,000 toward the purchase and helped gather almost $400,000 in pledges and donations, mainly from Ohioans.
“It was actually a collaboration,” Leipzig added. “Dr. Barich used to use a big word. He called us ‘co-catalysts.’ That’s what it was.”
The two properties sold Saturday for $575,000 and $545,000, respectively.
Leipzig said Lanni, whose father founded Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park largely as a way to preserve the area’s beautiful land, refused to be denied in bidding on two properties.
“She was not going to lose,” he said.
In addition to wanting to preserve large swaths of land in the area, Wilks also had been a longtime friend of Barich. Lanni told this media outlet the men had talked about making Fortified Hill part of Pyramid Hill.
They spoke with a lawyer, but were never able to work it out before Barich died, Leipzig said.
“With her help, and with my insisting on everybody that we needed to get it done, we got it done,” Leipzig said. “It was quite a special moment. It was amazing.”
Several organizations were instrumental in making the purchase happen, and Leipzig said he believes they will end up being involved with the land’s future.
The properties will be owned by Pyramid Hill through the Harry T. Wilks Foundation, Leipzig said, adding, “obviously, others as well, so all the 800 people who pledged, and $100,000 from The Archaeological Conservancy, $50,000 from Three Valley Trust, who’s going to hold the environmental easement.”
“There were 800 people who pledged,” Leipzig said. “That’s just a huge number. People wanted that place preserved.”
“The thing that was so amazing was everywhere we turned, it seemed like we kept getting extra help, and extra support, and extra people who wanted to preserve and do it,” Leipzig said. “We hopefully spoke for everybody that this was a site that it’s a sacred ceremonial site that deserved its protection.”
Advocates are especially enthusiastic about the possibilities because the Fort Ancient and other Hopewell sites from the same era appear to be on the cusp of becoming UNESCO World Heritage sites, probably in 2022 or 2023, joining such world cultural icons that include the Pyramids of Egypt, the Grand Canyon and Mammoth Cave. While the so-called “Fortified Hill Works” are not part of the group likely to be included, tourists from across the globe are expected to visit, and local tourism advocates believe they might make the Fortified Hill earthworks part of their trip, especially if further study helps define what these earthworks were used for.
Leipzig said the Fortified Hill earthworks obviously will not be immediately open to the public, and how they are put on display has not been determined.
“That’s going to be up to the partners,” he said. “The partners will be the ones who determine everything. The Archaeological Conservancy is part of that, Heartland Earthworks Conservancy is part of that, for sure. We’re also going to work with Three Valley Conservation and Trust, because they’re going to do the environmental piece.”
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