With only two members present, the Scioto County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday nevertheless may have helped clear the way for preservation of approximately 600 acres of farmland in the county, that parcel significantly including the so-called Tremper Mounds.
Founded in 1995, the grassroots organization Arc of Appalachia has raised and spent over $13 million for forest conservation, currently overseeing 17 nature preserves and taking on numerous related tasks.
The organization currently has its sights set on the former Tremper Farm, which sits about five miles north of Portsmouth. The privately-owned farm is the home of the Tremper Native American mounds, famous for containing highly unique stone pipes, according to Arc of Appalachia Director Nancy Stranahan.
County commission President Mike Crabtree said Arc of Appalachia has the opportunity through grants to regain all or most of whatever turns out to be the purchase price of the large farm. However, he added, to proceed, the group needed the blessing of the Scioto County Commissioners which was given Tuesday.
“I’m just glad, it’s been sitting empty for so long, I’m just glad it will be turned into something useful for everyone,” said Commissioner Cathy Coleman.
In a phone interview with the Daily Times, Stranahan said the effort to gain control of the Tremper Farm is in the “very preliminary stages.” She later added her organization needed the approval of public bodies such as the Scioto County Commissioners before moving forward. Her group eventually will try for two grants, the most substantial of which could eventually come from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
As the purchase price of the farm has not yet been negotiated, Stranahan was unable to say how much grant money Arc of Appalachia would seek. She did note the OEPA grant is very competitive and the application will take a lot of study and effort on the part of Arc of Appalachia. She said that effort needs to get underway fairly quickly even though the grant application technically isn’t due until July. The group may need to act even more quickly on a Clean Ohio Fund grant, the application for which is due March 8.
While she said an emphasis predictably will be put on preserving the mounds, Stranahan, and briefly, Crabtree talked about hiking trails and other amenities being built up around the mounds. Stranahan noted the development will benefit all of Scioto County but, if all goes as planned, will not cost residents one cent.
For her part, Stranahan spent a lot of time talking about the significance of the Tremper Mounds. While Ohio is home to several of the somewhat mysterious Native American mounds, including of course, those situated in Mound Park directly within the city of Portsmouth, as previously noted the Tremper Mounds are unique for the presence of carved stone pipes found buried inside them.
According to Stranahan, the pipes date back some 2,000 years. They are known as effigy pipes because they are in the shape of actual animals. However, Stranahan said they’re even more unique in that the animals depicted are not necessarily the big, strong animal types often associated with Native American folklore, animals such as bears or big cats. The Tremper Mound pipes include figures of such benign animals as frogs and woodpeckers. According to Stranahan, no one really knows what purpose the pipes served, ceremonious or otherwise.
Stranahan also talked about how the Tremper Mounds are among the best preserved in Ohio. While the land was used as a working farm, the mound retains its original footprint. According to a Sept. 11, 1915 edition of the Portsmouth Daily Times, pipes were not the only artifacts found inside the mounds. According to that piece, as early as 1829, researchers determined the Tremper Mounds are burial mounds, not so-called effigy mounds, built in the shape of some animal or another, such as the famed Serpent Mounds, operated and maintained by Arc of Appalachia. As for the Tremper Mounds, it is theorized the latter were built for ceremonial or religious purposes, but not strictly as burial grounds.
The 1915 article goes on to read in part: “The exploration of the mound disclosed the fact that it marked the site of a building or- structure, a ‘sacred place,’ used for the cremation of the dead, the disposition of their ashes, and the ceremonies attendant thereon. Roughly, it might be likened to the church and accompanying graveyard of modern times, with cremation substituted for ordinary burial.”
Based on work done by the Museum of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society, at the time located in Columbus, the article states inside the mound “it was found that there had been established a great central repository for the sole purpose of receiving the valuable possessions of the dead and offerings made by friends. The great central depository for the ashes of the dead was 12 feet long and nearly six feet wide… In this basin, the ashes of probably more than 100 cremated bodies had been placed.”
Items taken by the historical society from inside the mound “consist principally of ornaments and implements made from copper, stone, fired clay, mica, bone, etc.” The article then talks about over 200 “exquisitely carved tobacco pipes, many of them in the image of birds, animals, turtles and other life forms,” apparently to include an opossum, squirrel, mink, an otter carrying a fish in its mouth and a dog, possibly the only image of a dog ever found in one of the mounds. The Times article indicates the items mostly ended up in a Columbus museum, though it is not clear if they are still located there.