Ohio town plans museum for area's Indian artifacts

By Steve Kemme

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Published: Tuesday, April 17 2012 4:35 p.m. MDT

Phillip Turpin, an early settler of Anderson Township, discovered what a rich archaeological site it was when he started building his house around 1800 on what is now Batavia Pike (state Route 32). He uncovered 50 Indian skeletons while digging the basement.

In the 1880s, Dr. Charles L. Metz, a Madisonville physician, embarked on the first archaeological excavation of the Newtown area. Harvard University archaeology experts soon joined him.

Indians lived in the Newtown area from 13,000 B.C. into the 18th century. They lived in other parts of the Little Miami River valley, too — especially in what is now Mariemont.

What made Newtown such an attractive place to prehistoric peoples was its location on high ground at the confluence of the east and west forks of the Little Miami River. "Water was vital to their life," Tankersley said.

The changes in the course of the Little Miami over thousands of years caused the Indians to move to different parts of the Newtown area, he said.

When the Little Miami ran south of its current course, Indians lived near Batavia Pike, first in an area where the Turner homestead was later built and then farther east on what are now soccer fields in Clear Creek Park. When the river took its present course, the Indians lived in areas around Broadwell, Round Bottom and Mount Carmel roads.

At one point, dozens of Indian mounds and earthworks existed in what is now Newtown, and many more stood just outside its borders. These mounds were considered sacred places where a tribe's important elders were buried with their artifacts.

In the 1830s, residents removed a burial mound that stood at Main and Church streets in Newtown so they wouldn't have to go around it.

Willis F. Walker owned farm land that included a 45-foot-high burial mound at state Route 32 and Little Dry Run Road. Wanting to find and preserve any artifacts in the mound, he dug a tunnel through it in 1927 and uncovered skeletons and artifacts.

He fortified the walls inside the tunnel, installed electric lights and operated it as a museum, charging an entry fee. Vandals looted it, though, and it closed after a few months. The mound no longer exists.

Three documented Indian mounds survive today in Newtown. The most visible is in Flagg Spring Cemetery on Round Bottom Road. There's a smaller one in the cemetery close to the road. The third is in Moundview Park; it's a big grassy hill with many trees growing on it.

"Newtown is lucky to have them," said Tankersley, who has studied the archaeology sites in the Newtown area for years. "These things are disappearing quickly."

Sand and gravel operations in the area have destroyed a lot of Indian earthworks over the years. Some have been destroyed by looters.

Technological advancements in archaeological exploration now permit experts to find out what's in mounds or other Indian earthworks without full-scale excavation. Using ground-penetrating radar, remote sensors, and other high-tech tools, Tankersley said, would reveal the contents of the earthworks and discover new archaeology sites.

A museum like Newtown is planning will help educate people about prehistoric life and help save remnants of those civilizations still around, he said.

"This is part of our country's heritage," Tankersley said, "and it's worthy of our protection."

Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com

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