Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Milford Works

In my last post on The Camden Works I mentioned "The Milford Works" several times. Indeed, as the name obviously suggests, this was located in present day Milford, Ohio. In the early 19th century when it was essentially intact and being written about it was usually referred to as being "near Milford" because Milford itself was much smaller and this was located in a cornfield outside of town that is most likely a Frisch's drive-thru today. Classy.

This tremendous earthwork consisted of a square and partial circle (sound familiar?) with parallel embankments that ran up a steep bluff to a smaller circle. At this point, The Milford Works takes on one of the most remarkable formations seen anywhere. As Squier and Davis put it, "from this circle diverging lines extend to the south-west, terminating in a maze of walls unlike any others which have yet fallen under notice."  Squier and Davis made a survey of this work for Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley in 1848 and wrote about it briefly. Unlike The Camden Works, they seem to have visited this work in person and produced the following survey in their book.
The authors note that "from the hill an extensive prospect is afforded, bringing in view the sites of several large groups of works in the vicinity." This suggests that The Milford Works, perhaps in conjunction with Camden and The Turner Works, could have been used as part of a larger plan. This has also been suggested with the Alligator Effigy Mound in Granville, Ohio, which offers a connected view to the nearby extensive Newark Earthworks.
So you probably know where I am going with this next. I have to figure out where it was. Like all earthworks that were destroyed during the 19th and early 20th centuries, there are debates about exactly where it was located. Squier and Davis note that as early as 1848 the walls were "much reduced, and when the crops are on the ground, are hardly traceable."
The Squier and Davis survey does not give many clues except for the placement of the river bed and a high bluff and the road labeled "Milford Chillicothe Turnpike" which today is US Rt. 50. Some stretches of it in this area are still known by another 19th Century name for it- "Wooster Pike". So wherever it was, it has to straddle Rt. 50 and be close to the East Fork. When I went over this in my head I kept turning the map and the survey and looking at the landmarks and trying to fit this in. Then, one day, as I was standing in the river bottoms along the East Fork I looked back at Milford and suddenly it made sense. Check it out:
Here you can see the East Fork about where it appears on the map, you can see where the square crosses US 50, and you can see the high bluff that is Greenlawn Cemetery in Milford. This overlooks the valley below along the East Fork, which today is a shopping area called "Milford Parkway." So I thought I had solved it. But something kept bothering me.
Two things, actually. It was a couple of notes that Squier and Davis made about the location. One of the first things they note about this earthwork is that "it occupies the third terrace, which is here broad and fertile." Well the location I gave it puts it on the first terrace, extending up to the second. My second problem comes from the location of the river. Squier and Davis wrote that "an inspection of this work shows clearly that the irregularity of the great circle is due to the nature of the ground, and that the terrace bank bordering the old bed of the East Fork existed at the period of the construction of the work. The river now flows a considerable distance to the southward." See that's a problem, because I have the East Fork still flowing just below the location where the great circle would have been. So where else could it have been?
I was starting to think it really was lost for all time. But every time I seem to think that I just dig a little deeper and usually a new character emerges who can shed some light on it.
And that's the cue for a World War I flying Ace named Dache Reeves to enter the story. I couldn't tell you much about his early life, but he was born in 1894 and like most young men in what would be coined "The Lost Generation", he served in the Great War, specializing in balloon reconnaissance and aerial photography. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in action over France in 1918. Just read the account of what happened for yourself:
"While performing an important aerial mission in his balloon, Lieutenant Reeves was attacked by enemy airplanes. He hung from his basket under fire from enemy machine guns until the balloon burst into flames, when he jumped. He re-ascended as soon as another balloon could be inflated, although the air was strongly patrolled by the enemy. On 23 October near Gesnes (Meuse), he was in the basket with another observer when a circus of fifteen enemy airplanes made an attack from above. He remained in the basket until forced to jump. This officer showed extraordinary heroism be re-ascending as soon as another balloon could be made ready. Two hours later, while engaged in locating enemy batteries from his balloon, he was again attacked and the balloon burst into flames, forcing him to jump once more. In spite of these experiences this officer continued his mission in another balloon."
Wow. I've got to say that I'm blown away to read that the Army just kept sending this guy up in a hot air balloon during a WAR, even though every time he went up the balloon was immediately attacked by airplanes and he just had to hang from the basket(!) while they shot it up until it burst into flames. Then he would "jump" and survive. And was that enough for one day? Oh no. He would immediately start filling up a new balloon. This guy was like a Navy Seal of hot air balloons. Insane. You deserve the medal, sir.
Here is a photo of Lt. Reeve's medal. I cant find a picture of the actual guy so this will have to do.
I know it seems like I am getting way off topic but let me tie it in. After the war, Dache became interested in Anthropology and by the 1920s he had discovered that by using aerial photography he could still discern the lines of ancient earthworks even if the land they were on had been plowed over repeatedly. Well, luckily for us, in 1934 he captured a partial photo of The Milford Works. Take a look at this photo set I found from an actual place called The Earthworks Conservancy. Using Reeve's photo and later aerial photos that still showed traces of the eastern wall of the square, this earthwork can be fit onto this upper terrace:
So according to The Earthworks Conservancy and based on Reeve's photo, Rt 50 crossed the square just in front of Kroger/Frischs and then down by the Shopping Center/AutoZone. This puts the smaller circle and the diverging lines up the bluff along Robbie Ridge running southwest with the maze-like wall sterminating around Wallace Grove Lane, a high spot over the Valley View property and the river valley along the East Fork. These areas below Wallace Grove are known to have been have the sites of Woodland Culture villages at various points in pre-history. Now it makes sense that the bluff at the edge of the cemetery is "the terrace bank bordering the old bed" of the East Fork. In other words, when the Mound Builders created this earthwork, the river ran just below the bluff it sat on!
Further evidence that this is the actual location comes from one of Milford's earliest settlers, Rev. Philip Gatch. Born in Maryland in 1751, he was a  preacher who travelled by horseback spreading the unpopular religion "Methodism". An ardent abolitionist when everyone else in Maryland was loving having slaves, people there pretty much hated this guy. Here is his own account of how his eye was permanently maimed when attacked with hot tar by a pr0-slavery mob near Baltimore:
"The man called out for more tar, adding that I was true blue. He laid it on liberally. At length one of the company cried out in mercy- 'it is enough.' The last stroke made with the paddle with which the tar was applied, was drawn across the naked eyeball, which caused severe pain, from which I never entirely recovered."
Basically this guy needed to get out of Maryland. His travels eventually led him to present-day Milford, which he referred to as "at the forks of the Miami". In 1799 he built a cabin in what is present day Greenlawn Cemetery. In fact, the oldest tombstones in the cemetery belong to Rev. Gatch and his family. This was their family burying ground, which was later expanded to include others from Milford as well. Once here he established the first Methodist church in the Northwest Territory and is credited with having spread the religion westward. He was also a member of the Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1802. We know from the map that The Milford Works partially covered land on his farm so I thought surely he must have made mention of this tremendous earthwork in some of his papers, and it turns out he did. In an 1832 autobiography he wrote:
"The Land I bought proclaims a great population in past ages, ingenious and powerful; a People innured to hard labor; There is about 50 Acres inclosed by Walls, and Moun[d]s raised; the enquiry is, who hath performed all this; Not the Indians, they know nothing about it, as they say."
Gatch is referring to the Shawnee or Miami when he says "the Indians" and as they had no knowledge of who built the mounds, Gatch, like many of his contemporaries, assumed it was a much more advanced civilization than any Native Americans they had encountered. Gatch's own theory was that they had been built by an ancient band of travelling Chinese, possibly he thought these walls resembled the Great Wall he had certainly heard of.  He once explained the origin of the earthwork by saying:
"I am inclined to think that the Chinese & Tartars once dwelt here: the Chinese
are a laborious people possessed of mechanical ingénue."
While we are fairly certain that prehistoric earthworks and mounds in this area were not the handiwork of the Chinese, our explanations for their uses are, like Gatch's, really just educated guesses.
Squier and Davis wrote of The Milford Works that "it has been suggested that the structures upon the hill were devoted to rites analogous to those attending the primitive hill or grove worship of the East."
It is possible that these works were aligned with the rising and setting sun, perhaps even the constellations above. It is not too far fetched to imagine the long diverging lines of The Milford Works stretching out westward toward the last rays of the setting sun. I like discovering that Philip Gatch and Dash Reeves and even Squier and Davis all had the same curiosity I do about who built these and why. For me, the mystery is part of the fascination.


1 comment:

  1. A very nice bit of urban archaeology here, well written thank you.


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