Central Park Adena Mounds
In 1853 a few leaders in Hanging Rock, Ohio began contemplating about building a city on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. The area of Poage’s Landing was unanimously selected and the young city was formed. The Northeastern Kentucky Agricultural & Mechanical Association, which owned a manufacturing plant in Ashland, acquired land from the Poage farm and built a park for the company. A large white wooden wall surrounded the park and was used by the employees or open on special occasions to the public. The park was not used as often as intended and eventually sold to the city of Ashland for back taxes in 1900 for $32,500.
One of the main attractions at Central Park is the set of six burial mounds located behind Crabbe Elementary and the Boyd County Library. These mounds are believed to have been built by the Adena Culture commonly known as the “Mound-Builders”. These people were a prehistoric tribe that predated the Native Americans. The Adena Culture spans from 500-600 B.C. to 100 A.D. Technically this period is known as the Early Woodland time. The Adena people lived in small villages, grew crops, hunted, made pottery, and built large intricate mounds. The mounds range from four to six feet tall and are located on a slightly curved line. Placed into Adena graves with the dead, were personal artifacts of animal bone, copper, mica, and marine shell. Many artifacts have been discovered revealing trade with other groups of people from distant locations
These “Mound-Builders” are also called the “Cult of the Dead”, because archeologists are unsure of the reasons for building the mounds. These people not only built mounds for the burials, but constructed them for ceremony as well. Some appear to be earthen temples. From excavations, it is clear that many bodies were cremated (Peyton 1991).
Adena Culture in the Tristate
The same Adena Culture located in the Boyd/Greenup area were spread from Indiana to New Your and from Central and Southern Ohio to northern Kentucky and West Virginia. Some of the largest mounds are Moundsville in West Virginia and the 1,348-foot Serpent Mound in Adams County, Ohio. The placement of the Adena mounds in Boyd County and across the Adena culture is mysterious. It appears the majority, if not all mounds were indeed placed in the shape of a serpent. Some, like Serpent Mound Ohio are one continuous mound, while others like the few located at Central Park are separate mounds spread out over hundreds of yards and even miles in the shape of a serpent. Some mounds in the tristate were created by Adena and others by the Hopewell Culture. Some scholars believe that the Hopewell culture may have built the Central Park mounds. This group is as mysterious as the Adena and could possibly even be the same people. Historians do not even know the name of these individuals. They are called the “Hopewell Culture”, because a landowner named Mordecai Hopewell owned land in Chillicothe. Ohio where mounds were located.
Some scholars believe the Hopewell culture was more highly developed than that of the Adena. Many of their burial customs, farming practices and art seem to be more advanced. It is possible that the Adena culture is much older than scholars have dated. There is still speculation as to the dating of both of these early cultures.
The mounds at Central Park should not be confused with the Stone Serpent Mound located in Catlettsburg, KY. This mound was made of locally quarried stone and may be dated to an even earlier period than the park mounds, but by the same Adena Culture. I will have more information about these mounds in another story. According to the National Register of Historic Places (1974), the Ashland mounds extended in a serpent shape from 15th to 21st Streets between Montgomery and Bath Avenues. It is believed that the ancient village and/or other mounds may have been located where Armco or the AK Steel plant is located today. Many of these graves were leveled to build the plant as well as streets and avenues. Because of early excavation, the original mounds were quite smaller in height than the mounds that are in the park today. One reason may be because of early explorers placing larger amounts of dirt on top of the original mounds after the first excavations took place. All that is left of the culture today are the spear points and small artifacts they used. Little is known about their lifestyle.
At least sixteen mounds, and maybe more, were located within the city limits. One archaeological study conducted by the University of Kentucky in the 1930’s mentioned that there wasn’t another city in the state that contained more evidence of Prehistoric Adena Culture that Ashland. Unfortunately, those mounds and artifacts are forever lost in history.
We are indeed lucky to still have the six mounds in the park. I remember as a child riding my bicycle along with other kids on the park mounds in the 1970’s. Many generations have played upon and even rode their bicycles on the mounds without knowing or thinking about the historical value the mounds possessed. In 2009, a representative from the Ridgetop Shawnee and Kentucky Native American Indian Council cooperated with the city to erect fencing around the unprotected mounds. Now the mounds can be viewed from a safe distance without disturbing the area.
Peyton. D, (1991, October). Cult of death: Fort Ancient Indians simply disappeared. The Herald Dispatch. P. S10.
Professor Queen has been teaching at ACTC for 20 years. He has taught as an adjunct for 17 years and as a full- time instructor since 2020. He has taught Developmental Algebra, Workplace Principles, Introduction to College, Business Communications, Basic Public Speaking and Interpersonal Communications. Mr. Queen has written two books on local history. His first book “Clyffeside Park: Gem of Nature” is about a trolley park located on the outskirts of Ashland. The second book “Historical Gems of the River Cities” covers eleven places between Portsmouth and Huntington. Mr. Queen is also a drummer and enjoys playing live and recording in the studio.