The Mound

Grave Creek Mound

The Mound that stands in the midst of Moundsville is certainly one of the wonders of the world. No one knows by whom it was built nor does he know when it was built nor how it was built. It was evidently built by the hands of man, and that being the case, it is entitled to be classified as one of the wonders of the world.

Joseph Tomlinson seems to have lived near it for some time before he saw it. It has been stated that the first time he saw it was one evening as he returned home from hunting, with a load of game. He came up to what appeared to him to be a hill and in the way of his progress in getting home with a heavy load. He laid down his game and started along the foot of the hill to make an investigation of the nature of the hill and find a gap through which he might pass homeward without climbing so rugged a side as was presented to him.

Joseph Tomlinson

He soon made the circuit and found it was not a hill at all but a mound. He brought his wife the next morning to see it. They ascended it and made a thorough examination of the exterior as far as they could. Mr. Tomlinson regarded it as a burying place of an ancient race of people, and as long as he lived cared for it and protected it as such.

It may appear strange that he lived some time near it without having seen it but it must be remembered that the Flats of Grave Creek was at that time covered with a dense growth of large trees, so dense that one could see but a short distance into the gloom of the forest, especially when leaves were on the trees, and when this fact is considered it will be understood.

Mr. and Mrs. Tomlinson found the mound covered with trees as large as those of the surrounding forest and of the same varieties. There was a depression in the top of the mound and a large beech tree stood in the center of it. The tree had a number of names carved upon it when discovered, indicating that others had seen it before Mr. and Mrs. Tomlinson. Some of the dates carved on it were as early as 1736. Many names were found carved upon the tree and many visited the mound after it was discovered, and many visitors carved their names upon it so that it had somewhat the appearance of an autograph album. A white oak stood on the west side of the disk that died in the beginning of the past century that had a valid claim to being the monarch of the surrounding forest. It died, apparently of old age, and was cut down carefully and the growths counted and from the number of them the age of the tree was estimated at five hundred years. It carried its thickness about fifty feet from the ground and at that point branched out. The entire length of the tree was seventy feet when standing. It is said that it was fifteen feet in circumference. A red oak stood on the east side of the mound and a short distance down the side, that from its size, was entitled to succeed the white oak as monarch, if size and age was the direct line of decent of monarchship.

The height of the mound was given as seventy-nine feet and more than nine hundred feet in circumference at the base and fifty feet across the top.

While Joseph Tomlinson lived he would not allow the mound to be molested in any way as he regarded it as a burying place. He died in 1825, and the land was left to his son who yielded to the persuasion of those who were anxious to examine the interior.

On the nineteenth of March 1838 the work of making an excavation to examine the interior of the mound was commenced. A tunnel was started on the north side on a level with the base of the mound and with level ground about it. It was ten feet high and seven feet wide and was driven directly south toward the center of the mound. At a distance of one hundred and eleven feet, a vault was found. It was eight feet wide by twelve feet long. The sides of the vault were in line with the cardinal points. Its greater length was north and south.

There had been an excavation made in the earth seven feet deep before the vault was made. The vault had been made by placing timbers upright on two sides and the ends and they were covered with timbers laid crosswise, and these were covered with loose stones such as are found anywhere in the Flats of Grave Creek. The timbers had rotted and fallen in and the stones had fallen into the vault. The outlines could easily be traced by the rotten wood which would crumble between the thumb and fingers. The vault was as dry as any room.

In this vault two human skeletons were found. One of the skeletons had no ornaments about it of any kind while in the other six hundred and fifty ivory beads and an ivory ornament were found. The ornament was six inches long, one and five-eights inches wide in the middle and one and one-half inches wide at the ends, with two holes through it about one-eighth of an inch in diameter. It was flat on one side and oval on the other side.

The beads were flat and from three-eighths of an inch to five-eighths of an inch in diameter. They looked as if they had been sawed from a shaft of ivory and holes drilled in the center of them. Some were in a good state of preservation, while others crumbled when touched.

The first skeleton found was lying down on the back and along the west side of the vault and near it. The feet were about the middle of it and the body extended the full length with the head towards the south. The left arm was lying along left side and the right arm as if raised over the head, the bones lying about the ear and over across the head. No ornaments of any kind were found about this skeleton. The earth had evidently fallen into the vault before the ceiling had fallen as it was well preserved. When the bones were placed in their proper place and compared, they indicated a human being about five feet and nine inches in height. The shape of the head indicated a high degree of intellect. The second skeleton was lying on the left side with its head to the east, the feet likewise near the center of the side. The earth had not fallen in on this skeleton as on the first one found. It was not much broken, though more than the first one found. It was about this skeleton that the beads and ivory ornament were found.

After reaching the vault, work below was suspended and a shaft ten feet in diameter was started at the top in the depression and sunk to a level with the base of the mound and the land around it. At a depth of thirty-four or thirty-five feet, a vault was found that contained a human skeleton and a number of ornaments and a stone upon which were carved some hieroglyphics that astounded scientists.

About seventeen hundred beads, five hundred small shells, one hundred and fifty pieces of isinglass from one and one-half to two inches square, and five copper bracelets were found in the vault. The pieces of isinglass had two or three holes in them about the size of a small awl. The copper bracelets were found to be in a good state of preservation and the five to-ether weighed seventeen ounces, and appeared to have been made of round bars bent until the ends met. They were from one-fourth to one-half an inch in diameter. The bracelets were about the wrists and the beads and shells were about the neck and breast. The shells had been strung and worn as beads. The shells were thought to have been sea shells and very small. The pieces of isinglass had apparently been joined together and worn as a coat. The beads were from the thickness of pasteboard to one-fourth of an inch thick.

The stone that has been a mystery, was found in the upper vault near the skeleton. It was sand stone of very fine grain, and about one-half of an inch thick. It had no holes in it to indicate that it had been worn as an ornament. It was smooth on one side with hiero-glyphics carved on the other side. There were quite a number of copper beads found in the vault with ivory ones.

There were many things found in the mound usually found in graves opened elsewhere, such as arrow heads, hatchets of stone, etc. The beads counted were those that were in fairly good condition. Many of them were too much decayed to bear handling and were not counted. The earth, in general, appeared to be of the same as the ground around the mound. In the interior were found blue spots which evidently had been caused by burning bones. There were particles of burned bones found in many of the blue spots, which was all the evidence required to decide the cause of them. From the number of spots there must have been many bodies cremated there in the far past.

After the tunnel and shaft were completed an investigation was made of the interior where they met, about twenty five feet in diameter. The openings were walled and arched and the central one was plastered. It was the intention to make the room in the center a museum in which it was proposed to exhibit the relics found in the mound and that as near the spots where they were found as possible. It was abandoned in a few years and the openings have fallen in and the work all lost.

A circular house or observatory was built on the top of the mound soon after the openings were made. It was three stories high. The first story was thirty-two feet in diameter, the second twenty-six feet and the third ten feet in diameter. The roofs were nearly flat and very strong so that a number of persons could stand on them without danger of the roofs falling in and injuring them. From the roofs of the building there was a fine view of the surrounding country. It was neglected and soon fell to pieces and many years ago disappeared entirely and no trace of it is left. The last seen of the house was over half a century ago. The relics found in the mound have been so scattered that it would be a difficult task to gather them together.

The land, which for many years constituted the mound property, contains more than one acre of land and is bounded on the south by Tenth Street and on the north by Jane Street, on the east by Morton Avenue and on the west by Tomlinson Avenue.

The property changed hands several times since the death of Joseph Tomlinson. It was purchased a number of years ago by Hon. G. S. McFadden and owned by him and his heirs many years. It lay as any other unoccupied and nonproducing property, and from the effect of weather and children playing on it, was greatly damaged. Gullies were washed in the sides by rains and holes dug into the sides by children.

There was much talk of purchasing it and placing it in the hands of the State that it might be restored so far as possible to its original size and shape, and otherwise improved. Nothing was done until the Legislature convened in regular session in January, 1909. The Legislature passed an act authorizing the purchase of the mound for the sum of twenty five thousand dollars. A deed from R. J. McFadden and wife et al., dated April 15, 1909, conveyed the property to the State of West Virginia for the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars, of which the McFadden heirs donated five thousand dollars as a memorial to Hon. G. S. McFadden.

It received no attention from the State for more than five years. In the spring of 1915, M. Z. White, warden of the penitentiary, set a force of men to work on it to make the improvements so much talked of in years past. After restoring it to its former shape by filling the gullies, holes and depression at the top caused by the caving in of the tunnel and the shaft, the work of beautifying it was started. Grass seed and fertilizer was liberally used, trees were planted on the sides of it to hold the earth in place and prevent rains from washing gullies, the level ground about the base of it was planted with ornamental trees, shrubs and roses. A hedge of California privet was planted around the lot, walks were made, beds were prepared and in summer many beautiful foliage plants grown in them.

Through the energy of Mr. White the mound has been made a thing of real beauty and should, in part, stand as a memorial of the interest he had in caring for a burying place of a pre-historic race of people.

The Mound that stands in a conspicuous place in Moundsville is not the only mound found by early settlers in the Flats of Grave Creek nor is it the only evidence of a prehistoric people.

A number of small mounds were found scattered over the flats and all of them that were opened were found to contain articles that clearly indicated that they were graves of a people who lived here at an early age. The plow has leveled these mounds so that they can no longer be located and no records of them other than what is given above, and if these lines are lost, in a few years only tradition will be handed down to future generations. The tradition will cease to be remembered and that much of the history of this beautiful valley will be lost, forever-forgotten.

From the numerous graves the name of Grave Creek was given to each of the three streams of water that flow through the flats now known as the Flats of Grave Creek.

All the pre-historic work was not in these mounds only. Some stone works of a kind and purpose not clear to the mind of man were found in several places. On the Burley Hill is found a pile of stones, some of which are large but most of the stones are small, much like the ordinary flag stones or loose stones found on the surface of the ground and formerly used in constructing foundations for houses or other building purposes.

The structure was circular in shape and from the ruins appears to have been a circular building or fortification and through the influence of time and the elements of nature the structure fell in, making the circular pile of stones above mentioned.

On a point on the south side of Big Grave Creek on a farm owned by B. F. Holmes and formerly owned by William Collins, on Robert's Ridge, is another pile of stones of the same kind only differing in size and amount of stones found there.

On the top of a hill on the Ohio side of the river opposite the mouth of Little Grave Creek, is another heap of stones of the same kind, and in both of the latter cases, the works appear to have been of the same nature and purpose of the one on the Burley Hill. These piles of stones are still in evidence of an extinct people.

No records of any investigations of these ruins further than moving of a few stones by inquisitive boys, has ever been reported, and to the average resident of this county these piles of stones, evidently ruins, mean nothing, but to the antiquarian they are monuments of historical value equal probably to some of the pyramids of Egypt or mounds or ruins found in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley and it is possible that they have the same relation to the early history of this county that the latter have to the early history of Egypt or Babylon. Something of the nature of a Rosetta Stone, if found, might give a key to the history locked up in these ruins of an ancient people.

It is no idle thought or foolish words to say that the history of the Ohio Valley, ancient and modern, if carefully written, would be as interesting and as enlightening as that of the two great valleys mentioned above and give valuable information upon the rise and progress of civilization. The Ohio Valley is rich in history but it appears that it will never be fully collected and given to the public unless there is greater interest taken than is taken at present.

Source: History of Marshall County, by Scott Powell.