Fort Hill, Ohio
Hilltop Fort & Earthwork Enclosure—Hopewell
Ohio State Historical Society Park & Museum
Located on State Rt. 41 near Brush Creek Township, 16 miles southeast of Hillsboro, Ohio following State Rt. 124.
By Dr. Greg Little
Portions of this article and the illustration above are from The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Mounds & Earthworks.
It is believed that at least 1,000 ancient earthen enclosures were once present in America. They are traditionally dated as being constructed as early as 1500 BC to as recent as AD 1500. Most of these structures are attributed to the Hopewell Culture, which was characterized by fantastic geometrical earthworks and complex mounds somehow incorporated into the plan. Many of these formations still exist and have earthen walls as high as 30-feet running in lengths for literally many miles. Some of the more striking examples were erected on the top of steep hills and ridges and early archaeologists saw them immediately as defensive forts placed at defensible locations. Over time archaeologists began to doubt the defensive nature of the structures and asserted that they were built to create sacred spaces. However the thinking changed as the remains of burned palisades were found in the outer walls of some of these hilltop structures and the idea that at least some were actual forts has reemerged. The hilltop fort structures can be found in Michigan, New York, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, and other states. The Fort Hill formation is one of the best-preserved sites and is accessible by taking a long hike through dense woods and up steep embankments. A visit to this site is well worth the effort. It is located in a park with a good museum devoted to the moundbuilders
Fort Hill is located on a high, steep hill that was actually partially leveled during its construction, which started in 300 BC. A wide stone and earthen wall runs over 1.5 miles around the edges of the steep bluff that encircles the hill. The wall is about 40-feet wide and ranges from 6 to 15-feet high. In several areas the earthen wall extends an astonishing 50-feet down the bluffs. It is a very imposing structure in these areas. Oddly and perhaps symbolically, there are 33 spaced gaps in the wall with the width of the gaps between 15 to 20-feet. The purpose of the gaps is unclear but they could have been blocked by wooden gates. A village area, now completely obliterated, was present at the base of the hill. Four conical stone covered mounds were located inside the fort and the remains of other stone formations are still found there. The exact purpose of the entire structure remains unclear as the 33 gaps in the wall would seemingly make defending the fort much more problematical. However, virtually everyone who views the structure quickly concludes that it was probably used, at least on some occasions, as a defensive fort. A careful walk through the site will leave most visitors to question the idea of it being a solely sacred enclosure and make the defensive nature of it more obvious. The site has not been examined to any great degree by archaeologists and there are many areas where the stone structures inside need thorough review. Excavations at two earthworks on the south end yielded artifacts dated from 300 BC to AD 600.