Daily Distraction: Walk the grounds of Newark's Octagon Earthworks

Get full access to the ancient site on April 11 and 12, just before the Ohio Supreme Court hears arguments on whether Ohio History Connection can acquire the lease from Moundbuilders Country Club.

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Moonrise at the Octagon Earthworks in Newark, on Jan. 2, 2007.

Ohio is filled with ancient, man-made earthworks that are perfect for history-steeped daytrips. 

Many of these earthen structures were destroyed in the last few centuries, including two mounds just down the road from my Clintonville home that survived until the 1950s, when neighbors voted to turn the site into a Dominion Land Company subdivision rather than preserve it as a park. But visitors can still visit sites such as the Hopewell Culture National Historic ParkSerpent Mound and others.

Newark, Ohio, is home to an enormous, 2,000-year-old set of geometric earthworks built by indigenous people now known as the Hopewell culture. Within the Newark Earthworks complex is the 50-acre Octagon, which boasts eight earthen walls, each about 550 feet long and 5 to 6 to six feet high. (I wrote about the Octagon for Smithsonian magazine's January/February issue; check out the interactive map here.) It's an awe-inspiring site, but it's also on the private grounds of Moundbuilders Country Club, meaning that it's rarely open to the public.

The golf club leases the Octagon grounds from Ohio History Connection, and under the current agreement, the public gets full access to the site only a few days every year. The good news is, two of those days are coming up: On Sunday, April 11, and Monday, April 12, the Octagon Earthworks will be open from daylight to dusk, with Ohio History staff on site from noon to 4 p.m. each day to answer questions. After that, the next open days are on July 26 and October 17. 

That could soon change, though. For several years, Ohio History Connection has been trying to acquire the lease from Moundbuilders. (OHC has owned the site since 1933.) The case has been winding its way through the legal system, and on Tuesday, April 13, the Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether OHC has the authority to buy out the lease. (In January of last year, a state appeals court ruled in favor of OHC.) The Supreme Court's decision will have repercussions on Ohio History Connection's bid to get UNESCO's coveted World Heritage designation for the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, which includes the Newark Earthworks. Without full public access to all of the nomination's included earthworks, the designation would prove nearly impossible.