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Society

Ancient Ohio Tribal Site Where Golfers Play is Changing Hands — But the Price is Up to a Jury

NEWARK, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s historical society is one step away from gaining control of ancient ceremonial and burial earthworks maintained by a country club where members golf alongside the mounds.

A trial was slated to begin Tuesday to determine how much the historical society must pay for the site, which is among eight ancient areas in the Hopewell Earthworks system named a World Heritage Site last year.

Built between 2,000 and 1,600 years ago by people from the Hopewell Culture, the earthworks were host to ceremonies that drew people from across the continent, based on archeological discoveries of raw materials from as far west as the Rocky Mountains.

The Ohio History Connection, which owns the 2,000-year-old Octagon Earthworks in Newark in central Ohio, won a state Supreme Court decision a year and a half ago allowing it to reclaim a lease held by the Moundbuilders Country Club so that it can turn the site into a public park.

Native Americans constructed the earthworks, including eight long earthen walls, that correspond to lunar movements and align with points where the moon rises and sets over the 18.6-year lunar cycle.

FILE – A groundskeeper mows near the flat-topped mound that is part of the 50-acre octagon at Moundbuilders Country Club at the Octagon Earthworks in Newark, Ohio, July 30, 2019. A trial was slated to begin Tuesday, May 28, 2024, to determine how much the historical society must pay for the ancient ceremonial and burial earthworks, which is among eight ancient areas in the Hopewell Earthworks system named a World Heritage Site last year. (Doral Chenoweth III/The Columbus Dispatch via AP, File)

The Ohio History Connection calls them “part cathedral, part cemetery and part astronomical observatory.”

Numerous tribes, some with historical ties to Ohio, want the earthworks preserved as examples of Indigenous peoples’ accomplishments.

In 1892, voters in surrounding Licking County enacted a tax increase to preserve what was left of the earthworks. The area was developed as a golf course in 1911, and the state first leased the 134-acre property to Moundbuilders Country Club in the 1930s.

A county judge ruled in 2019 that the historical society can reclaim the lease via eminent domain.

The club challenged the attempt to take the property, saying the Ohio History Connection did not make a good faith offer to purchase the property as required by state law. The country club says it has provided proper upkeep of the mound and allowed public access over the years.

The club suffered another legal blow when the trial court disallowed evidence it had hoped to present regarding the land’s value. The club appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court, which declined jurisdiction.

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