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Geology of Dayton and Vicinity
Chapter Two





11. The Mound-Builder Fort in Calvary Cemetery


   The early races inhabiting this country before the arrival of the white man must have found the deep hollows, surrounded on all sides by ridges, convenient natural refuges when attacked by their enemies. There is abundant evidence that a part of the high land bordering the bluffs, along the northwestern part of the Calvary cemetery, was used for such a purpose. In fact, several hollows here were enclosed by the same earthwork, the low earth embankment forming the walls of the fort taking advantage, as far as possible, of the ridges already present.

   At the time of the advent of the white man, the Indians, then inhabiting the country, did not make use of the fort on the bluffs. In fact, they did not use any of the forts found in this part of Ohio, nor did they retain any memory of their use as forts. Moreover, the great age of the trees growing [p.37]


 [Drawing: Ancient earthwork or fort in Calvary cemetery. Map based on survey. Only the western part, from the southern gate to the northern know, is well preserved. The northern  part can scarcely be traced, and the eastern part has been removed entirely by regrading. All of the eastern half of the enclosure, including the Calvary ridge, has been regraded. The depressions noted by the surveyor probably were natural hollows among the network of ridges. Large hollows still exist in their natural condition in the western part of the enclosure  and also south of the same. Twenty-four acres of land are estimated to have been included in this fort. Toward the lower part of the gully there formerly was a spring.]


on the earth-walls, indicates their neglect for several centuries. Under these circumstances it was natural to ascribe the construction of the earthwork forts to another race – the “mound-builders.” However, it is readily possible that the so-called mound builders were merely early tribes of Indians, with very different customs and with a very different stage of [p.38]


[Photo: Same view as on page 37, but taken sufficiently far toward the left to show the slight depression often seen just within the walls of the forts constructed by the mound-builders.]


civilization from that attained by the Indians who were in actual possession when this country was first visited by Europeans.

   Thirty years ago, the walls of the Calvary cemetery fort could be traced along their entire course. Parts are still preserved. From the mound at the northern end of the Calvary ridge the earth-wall descends the deep gully eastward and ascends the steep hillside on the other side of the gully, but this part of the wall is almost obliterated. Farther eastward, where the wall crosses the head of a much smaller gully, the earth-wall may be distinguished even from a distance. East of this second gully the earth-wall formerly turned rather abruptly southwestward, along the crest of the East Fort ridge, now occupied by the Zitter, Weingartner, Pflaum and Stomps monuments, to a point about 100 feet south of the Calvary monument. Beyond this point it extended in a somewhat more westerly direction as far as [p.39] the southern gateway to the fort. Only the last 200 feet of this part of the wall is still preserved. All of the east wall has been removed in regrading the cemetery.

   The southwestern and western part of the earth-wall surrounding the fort, on the contrary, is very well preserved. From the southern gateway the wall extends as far as the bluffs on the western margin of the cemetery grounds. A woodland road follows the northern side of this part of the wall. The southwestern part of the fort was its most vulnerable portions since here several ridges reach the wall, from the south, at about the same level as the wall. One of these ridges leads directly into the fort at its southern gateway, and is used at present by a woodland road. Another ridge lies farther westward, and is reached by the road diverging southwestward from the gateway. There is also high land at the southwestern angle of the fort. Therefore, the entire southwestern line of the fort was still further protected by a long ditch, originally about two or three feet in depth, which still may be traced from a point 120 feet north of the gateway westward to the southwestern angle of the fort. Formerly it extended also eastward, almost as far as the crest of the Calvary ridge.

   From the western end of the ditch, at the southwestern angle of the fort, the earth-wall extends northward along the upper edge of the bluffs. At one point it is interrupted by a second gap or gateway, where a small spur projects westward from the margin of the bluff. From this point the earth-work takes a more northeasterly course, as far as the high knob several hundred feet directly west of the northern termination of the Gravel Pit ridge. Along most of this western part of the fort the woodland road follow the eastern margin of the earth-wall, but several hundred feet north of the western gateway the road ascends the wall, and from this point northward it follows the crest of the wall.

   The present height of the earth-wall, along the southern and western margin of the fort, rarely exceeds five feet, and frequently equals only three feet. The original height evidently exceeded five feet, but probably only to a moderate extent.

   From the knob at the northwestern edge of the fort the wall followed [p.40] the northern edge of the bluffs as far as the mound already mentioned, but this part of the wall is but poorly preserved at present.

   The entire space included within this earthwork is estimated at 24 acres. It included about eight hollows, of which several were fairly deep. Only those hollows which occurred in the western half of the fort have not been disturbed by regrading.

   That this earthwork, notwithstanding its apparently poor adaptability for purposes of defense, was of great value is indicated by the existence of numerous similar earthworks or forts scattered over a wide range of territory in Ohio and neighboring states. It is inconceivable that such laborious work should have been undertaken, unless forts of this type were known to be effective. It is much more probable that, in our ignorance of the type of warfare then prevailing, we fail to realize how well these forts fulfilled their purpose.

   It is interesting to note that the earth used in the construction of the Cemetery fort consists of clay, while the surrounding land consists chiefly of gravel with a very thin surface of soil. Apparently the clay used for the fort walls was brought from a distance of at least several hundred yards in baskets. The walls were built up directly on the existing land slopes, there being no evidence of any alteration of the previously existing topography beyond the addition of the earth-walls. [p.41] [p.42]


[Photo: Gravel pit at northern end of Chapel ridge, in Calvary cemetery, showing the stratification of the gravels in a direction parallel to the length of the ridge.]

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