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Messages from Michael L. Morton


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Everywhere we seem to be walking upon the dust of the departed (Dragoo and Wray 1964:197, quoting from an 1881 Newark newspaper).

It is a black mark on a sacred place. Yet even now, plans are being made to further encroach upon the land. The location in question - one of the few remaining wonders of the ancient world - the Newark Octagon State Memorial; the party in question - the Moundbuilders Country Club. The problem is that the Moundbuilders Country Club is using the Octagon State Memorial as a golf course; and now, they want to expand their facilities and nearly double the size of their clubhouse. This will most likely cause further injury to an area that has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

My plea to you the reader, is to voice your opposition to the proposed construction. Tell the Ohio Historical Society and your state representatives that further injury to this historic landmark is not acceptable. Remind them that the Octagon State Memorial belongs to the people and that our national heritage needs to be protected. Tell them to not approve the proposed construction. A list of who to contact is provided at the end of this article.

A Brief History of the Newark Earthworks

The Newark Earthworks are located in Licking County, Ohio, just a few miles east of Columbus. Incredibly, the Newark site represents the largest and most intricate, geometrical earthwork complex in the world (Lepper 1988-89:118). Built between 100 B.C. and 400 A.D., by Native Americans who we now call the Hopewell, the earthworks once covered an area of about four square miles. The area featured tremendous circles, squares, and an octagon-shaped enclosure, connected by walled passageways. From what archaeologists can tell, the site was used for ceremonial and religious purposes including burial of the dead. Figure 1 shows an early map of the area, while Figure 2 provides an aerial view of the Newark Octagon and Observatory Circle. Sadly, along with the Fairground Circle, the Newark Octagon and Observatory Circle are all that remain of the site.

The Newark Earthworks first came to the attention of the world in about 1805. In spite of scientific interest, however, urban development quickly obliterated most the complex. By the late 1800s, the only remaining large-scale earthworks were the Fairground Circle and the Newark Octagon and Observatory Circle.

In a farsighted gesture, the City of Newark purchased the Octagon and Observatory Circle from local land owners in 1891. The City then deeded the property to the State of Ohio - for use as an encampment ground by the Ohio National Guard. Much to their credit, the National Guard carefully and diligently restored damaged sections of the earthwork.

The National Guard periodically trained at the Newark Octagon until about 1908. Then, pursuant to terms of the original deed, upon abandonment of the grounds by the Guard, the State re-conveyed the Octagon and Observatory Circle property back to the City of Newark.

On April 6, 1910, the Newark Board of Trade (later known as the Newark Chamber of Commerce) voted to lease the Newark Octagon and Observatory Circle to the Licking Country Club for use as a golf course. Several members of the Board of Trade objected to this use of the earthwork, but after lengthy debate, most of these dissenting members were satisfied when an amendment was added to the lease specifying that the Board of Trade could terminate the lease at any time upon giving one year's notice. The lease further called for the Country Club to preserve and beautify the grounds and earthworks while also specifying that the =E2=80=9Csame are also to be used as a public park thrown open to the use of the entire public under such reasonable regulations as the Board of Trade and the club shall prescribe (Newark Advocate newspaper April 7, 1910, page 1). (Over the years, the terms of the lease have changed to where now, the Country Club has the option of renewing the lease until the year 2078 and no longer is there an amendment stating that the lease can be terminated by the Lessor.)

Subsequent to signing the lease, the Country Club began operations. A clubhouse was built. Members dined in the up-scale clubhouse restaurant, entertained in the private bar, and played golf at their leisure across the ancient earthworks. As to the earthwork grounds themselves, the original 9-hole course was expanded to 18-holes, walkways were cut into the earth and covered with asphalt to make pathways for golf carts, the interior earthwork grounds were dug into to build sand traps, water and sewer lines were dug for the clubhouse, a large sheet-metal maintenance shed was built within the perimeter of the Octagon enclosure, large areas were paved over for a parking lot and circular entranceway, the earth was deeply excavated in order to build an in-ground swimming pool, other areas were paved to make tennis courts, chain-link fences were erected, "No Trespassing" and "Restricted" signs were posted around the perimeter and finally, a 98-foot long, original section of the Observatory Circle perimeter wall was completely destroyed and cut through in order to make a passageway for golf carts, when the clubhouse was rebuilt in 1963.

At one point, public interest in seeing the earthworks preserved resulted in a lawsuit between the City of Newark and the Newark Board of Trade. And eventually, the Licking County Court of Common Pleas ordered that the Observatory Circle and Octagon be deeded to the Ohio Historical Society. So it was on March 9, 1933, that the Ohio Historical Society took possession of the 125 acres comprising the Newark Octagon and Observatory Circle. In return, the Ohio Historical Society agreed to: =E2=80=9Chold and preserve said premises described for all time as an archaeological and historical site for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of the public... (Volume 304, page 498, Deed Records of Licking County, Ohio). Nevertheless, the Country Club continued to occupy the earthworks - apparently based on the judge's further ruling that the golf course had not endangered the earthwork.

Most recently, in 1964, the Octagon State Memorial as it is now known, was designated a National Historic Landmark in recognition of its unique and important place in our history.

The Moundbuilders Country Club

The Moundbuilders Country Club is currently made-up of about 220 members. Members include some of the most prominent and influential citizens in the area, including at least one state congressman.

According to a recent newspaper report (Newark Advocate, November 23, 1999, page 1a-2a), Country Club members want to demolish the existing clubhouse and build a bigger one because they have need for larger and more comfortable locker rooms, as well as an exercise facility, better kitchen and dining facilities, and would like a better view of the golf course from the conference and banquet rooms. In order to accomplish this, plans call for demolition of the existing clubhouse between September 10 and September 24, 2000; with construction of the new building to begin on September 26, 2000 and completed by May 1, 2001. The new clubhouse will be 29,926 square feet. The first floor level of the new clubhouse will be 17,715 square feet, as compared to the existing building which has 10,535 square feet. The project will cost an estimated 4.3 million dollars.

The Ohio Historical Society

Most people are surprised to learn that the Ohio Historical Society is not an agency of, or part of state government. Rather, the Society is a private, non-profit corporation - chartered in 1885, to promote a knowledge of archaeology and history, especially in Ohio. Currently, the Society has about 11,500 members. Its annual budget is approximately 15 million dollars - most of which is provided to the Society by the state for site operations. Overall management is the responsibility of the director, who is elected and reports to an 18-member board of trustees. Half of the trustees are appointed by the governor, the other half are elected by the Society's general members. Although it is not a state agency, the Society is authorized by state law (Ohio Revised Code, Section 149.30[A]) to carry out a variety of public functions including: operating, protecting, maintaining and promoting for public use a system of state memorials, titles to which may reside wholly or in part with this state or wholly or in part with the society.... It is by this authority that the Society has oversight with regard to what the Moundbuilders Country Club does at the Octagon State Memorial.

The Lease

I have in my possession, a copy of the lease between the Moundbuilders County Club and the Ohio Historical Society. It was provided to me by the Society and its terms are quite clear. It reads, in part:

It is covenanted by and between the parties that: FIRST: Said premises are to be occupied and used by said Lessee for Country Club purposes only; and said Lessee may, subject to written approval of Lessor as to the plans, specifications and construction erect and/or maintain buildings, structures, lay out golf links, and other such features as it deems necessary for such purposes....providing, however, that said Lessee is not to do, or permit to be done, anything that will mar the beauty of said grounds or that will injure or impair, in any way, the mounds and earthworks thereon. SECOND: Plans for all permanent improvements shall be approved by the Lessor and Lessee before such improvements are made. (Signed to by officers of the OHS and Moundbuilders County Club, March 1957, emphasis added.)

Operationally, what is important here is that according to the terms of the lease, all construction such as the new building planned by the Club, must be approved in writing by the Society, before construction begins. Given that the Society represents the public interest, the Society should not approve the proposed construction.

Simply stated, it is not in the public interest to see the existing clubhouse made bigger. As it is now, the clubhouse that occupies the site (see Figure 3) is severely out of character with the intended use of the site - both as a sacred area, and as a historic monument and public park.

Why the Construction Should Not Be Approved

1) It seems to me that a construction project of the magnitude planned by the Country Club will inevitably cause further damage to the earthwork - contrary to the terms of the lease. The Country Club may argue that the new facility will not increase the size of the current building footprint - but the fact is that a larger building will loom even more ominously over the earthworks. And, although I do not know this for a fact, it seems likely that at least some new excavations will be needed to re-route and up-date sewer, water, gas, electric, and telephone lines. Who knows too, what changes will have to be made to the parking lot, patio, and driveway areas and the underlying earthwork grounds. Unfortunately, well-meaning oversight by the Ohio Historical Society is no guarantee that significant damage will not occur. As mentioned earlier, a 98-foot section of the Observatory Circle perimeter wall was completed obliterated in 1963, when the Club last renovated their building - even with Society oversight.

2) Ultimately though, the whole concept of a golf course occupying a State Memorial is wrong - and approving the new construction sends the wrong message. The Newark Octagon State Memorial was intended as a public park - a place where we could all walk, and contemplate, and reflect on the beauty around us. As it is now, however, visitors are not free to walk across and explore the interior of the earthworks. Rather, golfers have the right of way. Indeed, visitors who venture into the earthwork risk physical arrest on charges of trespassing, as well as physical injury from flying golf balls. Not exactly a situation you want to expose your family to. And certainly not the kind of place where you would want to go for a picnic lunch.

Even more importantly though, the Newark Octagon is not just an architectural wonder from another time. Nor is it simply an ancient curiosity that deserves to be reduced to a public park. Rather, it is a sacred place. Indeed for many, the Newark Earthworks are a spiritual place. Visiting these magnificent earthworks one can almost feel the presence of the Ancient Ones. In a way, they are still here. This is their place - not ours.

We may not understand completely the ways of the Native Americans who buried their dead and celebrated their religious ceremonies here, but if we are to occupy this land then at the very least, we have a duty to respect and honor their sacred places. Indeed, how would we feel if a fast-food hamburger restaurant was built smack in the middle of the Arlington National Cemetery? Don=E2=80=99t get me wrong, I like a good hamburger. But just as a national cemetery or national monument is not the appropriate setting for a fast food restaurant, so too, the Newark Octagon State Memorial is not the appropriate setting for a country club and golf course. The picture is all wrong...

What You Can Do

If you are of the same opinion, here is what you can do.

1) Write to Gary Ness, Director of the Ohio Historical Society and voice your objections.

2) Write to each of the trustees for the Ohio Historical Society and voice your objections. Urge them to not approve the proposed construction. The current trustees are: Charles C. Alexander, Ann M. Antenen, Margaret Black, Grant L. Douglass, Shirley T. Duncan, Patricia S. Eldredge, Elaine H. Hairston, Alan S. Katchen, George P. Kulchytsky, John J. Kulewicz, Charles F. Kurfess, John D. Lee, Ann Kiser Lowder, Charles B. Nuckolls, Jr., John D. Ong, Kathy Palasics Kapossy, Lucy McKewen Porter, Ralph Ramey, Richard Sisson, Marian J. Vance, and Marilyn Van Voorhis Wendler. Both Gary Ness and the trustees can be reached through the Director's Office at:

The Ohio Historical Society, 1982 Velma Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43211. If you prefer not to write a letter, then simply send a copy of this article.

3) Write a letter or send a copy of this article to your local state representative. The name and address of your state representative can be found in your local telephone directory.

4) Contact web page masters and post this article to every web site you can. Tell people around the world about what is happening here in Ohio.

5) Contact and send this article by e-mail or regular mail to professional and avocational archaeological societies and Native American groups who have an interest in seeing our cultural resources protected.

The Newark Octagon State Memorial belongs to all of us. And while the Hopewell people can no longer make their voices heard and protect their sacred places, maybe we can help. Maybe, we can make a difference...

(Please do not change or edit this article without written permission from the author. Thank you.)


Dragoo, D.W., and C.F. Wray
1964   Hopewell Figurine Rediscovered.
       American Antiquity 30:195-199.

Lepper, Bradley T.
1988-89   An Historical Review of Archaeological Research at the Newark
          Journal of the Steward Anthropological Society 18(1-2):118-140.

Squier, Ephraim G. and Edwin H. Davis
1848    Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley.
        Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge Vol. 1.
        Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2000 William F. Romain