History | January 5, 2021 7:00 am

Ohio Golf Course Built on Ancient Ceremonial Earthworks Faces Lawsuit

The accessibility of a historical site is at stake

Octagon Earthworks in Newark, Ohio
Part of the Octagon Earthworks in Ohio.
Jubileejourney/Creative Commons

Two thousand years ago, the Hopewell culture lived in and around what is now Ohio. While there is plenty we don’t know about them, they’ve also left behind an impressive legacy in the objects they created and the massive ceremonial earthworks that have endured until the present day. World Heritage Ohio’s website refers to them as “the pre-eminent examples, and the largest concentration in the world, of prehistoric monumental landscape architecture.”

So of course, someone built a golf course on top of them.

That would be Moundbuilders Country Club in Newark, Ohio. And if the idea of playing a round of golf on a historical site seems a little off to you, you’re not alone. An article and interactive map at Smithsonian Magazine by Joel Oliphint explores the legal battle surrounding the golf course and the history contained there.

At the center of the debate is the Octagon, a massive earthwork capable of holding the Roman Colosseum four times over. The Octagon was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site, but in order for things to proceed there, the entire site needs to be publicly accessible. Keeping that from being the case is the golf course.

The nonprofit group Ohio History Connection owns the site — and has since 1933 — but the country club’s lease on it runs for another 57 years. The nonprofit is attempting to buy back the lease via eminent domain; the club has resisted this effort. As Smithsonian reports, the case will next be heard by the Ohio Supreme Court; previously, an appeals court ruled in favor of Ohio History Connection. At stake is a piece of the continent’s ancient history — and what its future might be.

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