Tyler County’s ancient residents
(Editor’s note: This is the latest installment from the Tyler County Planning Commission in conjunction with the Tyler County Bicentennial.)
We all are familiar with the Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville, W.Va. But right here in Tyler County there were some very complex structures built by the ancient Native American Adena Culture, commonly known as the Mound Builders.
One of ancient America’s largest, and most mysterious earthworks was discovered by explorers and early settlers upon reaching Tyler County. The earthwork complex, which extended from Long Reach to Bens Run, is difficult to spot from ground level, but careful examination of aerial views still gives a hint of the extent of the massive complex.
It must be noted that all of the remains of the Bens Run complex are located on private property and are not open to the public without express permission of the property owners.
Some of the structures built by the Adena date back as far as 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Most Adena cultural remains, which can still be found, are the burial mounds which dot the landscape in the Ohio River Valley and date back to around 1,000 BC. Although most Adena sites are burial mounds, many sites in the central Ohio Valley had, in addition to the burial mounds, large and largely unexplained earthworks.
These range in shape from circles to squares to pentagons and sometimes enclose large fields and/or conical or domed burial mounds.
In 1927, a survey of the Bens Run site was conducted by George P. Riggs and his son, Nikola Riggs. They were assisted by Mr. Lemuel Parker and Mr. Josiah Holdren of Bens Run and Mr. J. R. Wells of Parkersburg. These men were very familiar with these ruins since childhood.
There were many structures in the Long Reach to Bens Run area. The most amazing structure was the great fortification. The area of this enclosure encompassed about 400 acres of land surrounded by two parallel walls about 125 feet apart. To describe this enclosure, we begin at the Bens Run village. The earthen walls cross the flats near the houses at the north side of the village curved towards the Selman Wells house. This house was built on the outer wall, which continued straight toward the Long Reach church up the river from Bens Run. Running through various farms, the wall arrived at the site of the R.W. Johnson Farm near Long Reach. The wall curves toward the hill and followed near the base of the hills back to its beginning at what is now the village of Bens Run.
The length of this great enclosure’s interior surrounding wall was about 1.8 miles from the north end to the south end. The enclosure also had an outer wall oval measuring about 4.5 miles. The second or inner wall ran parallel to the outer wall oval and was 4.25 miles in length.
If one could take these earthen walls and straighten them out and attach them end to end, it would make a single earthen wall of at least 8.5 miles in length. The authors of the 1927 survey judged the height of one of the walls, or embankments of the fortification, could have been 10- to 12- feet high.
One of the farms located inside the enclosure was the Parker farm, which is currently the Momentive Employees Park. In this area were two mounds, one of them about four feet high and about 60 feet in circumference. The other was about 14 feet high and 420 feet in circumference. Just south of the mounds was a crossing wall, which can still be identified from aerial photos and runs from east to west of the enclosure. From the crossing wall, running south towards Bens Run, were two long curved walls which ran lengthwise with the outer walls. The ends of the two curved walls at Bens Run were not connected to any wall and were about three feet apart.
Information provided for the survey by Mr. Lemuel Parker, about the year 1880, stated that all the walls were so high that when a person stood behind them one could not see over the tops. This bottomland has been under almost constant cultivation for about 130 years, consequently the great earthworks are nearly destroyed.
What can be seen from ground view today? To the untrained eye these remnants are not visible. However, the cross wall on what is the Momentive Park is now a line of trees running East to West. The remaining mound is visible beyond center field of the softball field.
While today’s residents often think of Tyler County history in modern terms, dating Native American hunters and early European pioneers, the site at Bens Run clearly indicates ancient peoples found the Tyler County area an ideal location for one of early America’s largest and most complex settlements and centers of culture.
Acknowledgments: “Shrouded Mystery,” research and prepared by George P. and Nikola Riggs, March 7, 1927, (copied and bound by “Gene” and Evelyn Reynolds, July, 1992; “An Introduction to North America’s Early People,” by C.R. Smith, Cabrillo.edu; Illustration: Ohio Historical Society.