As it were

Mound St. mound was one of many


I was at a neighborhood meeting not long ago. At that meeting, a resident wondered how Mound Street got its name. Another person opined that perhaps there once was a mound of some sort somewhere along the street. Yes, there certainly was a mound on Mound Street and it was not the only one in town.

For several thousand years before the current era, prehistoric Native American people made their homes in the country north and west of the Ohio River. The earliest of these people were largely nomadic hunters and gatherers. They left few traces of a permanent presence behind as they followed the large animal herds that roamed what is now Ohio.

By about 1,000 years before the current era, native peoples had begun to develop more permanent settlements and homesteads. Many of these people began to construct earthen structures for ceremonial, funerary and defensive uses and would later be referred to as the Mound Builders. Central Ohio was home to various cultures of Mound Builder people until well into the Seventeenth Century.

When early colonial settlers arrived, they were surprised to find extremely sophisticated sites like the great circle and octagon earthworks in Newark and similar structures throughout what is now central Ohio. There were literally hundreds of mounds, enclosures and earthworks. But surprise was all too often not accompanied by respect.

Lucas Sullivant was the pioneer founder of frontier Franklinton at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers in 1797. Many years later, his son Joseph remembered from his youth, according to a later account, that "parallel lines of embankment existed near the old site of Franklinton, now enlarged into West Columbus." By the early 1890s -- and probably much earlier -- no trace of them remained.

Joseph Sullivant also recalled "that upon the bottom lands near the junction of the Scioto and Whetstone (Olentangy), were several well-defined specimens of mounds of which the pioneers availed themselves when they needed earth or gravel. One of these was said to have been situated in the central part of Franklinton; another where the Ohio Penitentiary (Arena District) now stands, and several smaller ones south of these on the west side of the river. Not a vestige or even a record of these works remains."

The largest mound in what is now downtown Columbus was on the east side of the Scioto River. In 1892, James Linn Rogers wrote an account of that mound and of its fate. "One of the most pretentious mounds in the county was that which formerly occupied the crowning point of the highland on the eastern side of the Scioto River ... on the southeast corner of High and Mound Streets, in Columbus. ... When the first settlers came it was regarded as a wonder, yet it was not spared. The expansion of the city demanded its demolition, and therefore this grand relic of Ohio's antiquity was swept away. From the best information to be had at this time, the mound must have been quite forty feet in height above the natural surface of the river terrace or bluff. It is said to have been a shapely and graceful structure, with gradual slopes in all directions save to the southward, where the declination was somewhat abrupt..."

"As was usual with such works it was in the form of a truncated cone, and if we accept its reported height, its diameter on the level surface at the top was certainly one hundred or more feet. Its base diameter cannot be estimated accurately, but was probably not less than three hundred feet. That its proportions were ample is attested by the fact that a large double frame house stood on its summit. Dr. Young, who erected this building, was in later years succeeded in its occupancy by several well-known families of the town. Oak trees three feet in diameter grew upon the mound in those days, and it is stated that five large locust trees were rooted in the level surface of the summit."

"Such was the condition of the work up to the time when the city's streets encroached upon its slopes. When its destruction began, two forces of excavators pushed into it from north and south until they met, and High Street became continuous in a straight line. ... All who remember the opening of this mound have a mite of information to add to the story of its demolition. One says 'utensils' of various kinds were found; another that 'trinkets' were discovered; a third that the father of the late William Platt found a skull so large that it would go over his head; a fourth that a silver buckle was turned up by the spade, and so on. But none of these statements can now be verified by the identification of the articles taken from the mound, every trace of them having been lost."

By the late 1830s, Columbus had seen the arrival of the National Road and the Ohio Canal and the Borough of Columbus had become the City of Columbus. And the Mound which gave Mound Street its name was gone.

Local author and historian Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.