The second Saturday in May found us southbound for a long day of finding unique places to see. Our first stop was in Chillicothe, at of all places, the VA Hospital.
The VA Memorial Stadium is located on the grounds of the hospital, with a seating capacity of 3000 in the brick main grandstands that is representative of the period it was built in the 1950s.
Across the road from the VA Hospital is the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park, where a collection of Native American earthworks known as Mound City are located. While we did not visit Mound City on this visit, we did stop by another unit of this park west of Chillicothe called Seip Mound.
This large earthwork complex contains a low embankment forming a small circle and an irregular circle and a square, all connected and enclosing about 121 acres. Within the enclosure is a large elliptical mound, three smaller conjoined mounds, several small mounds, and several structure outlines found through excavations. It is estimated that the large mound was originally 240 feet long, 160 feet wide, and 30 feet high. A reconstructed mound and a portion of reconstructed wall are visible
Nearby Seip Mound is located near what was once a small village called Knockemstiff. This town was made famous by in 2008 by a local writer who used it for a location in a fictional book, which became a best seller. The book made the town so famous that someone has stolen the sign with the name of the town on it, so we had a difficult time locating it, finally realizing we were there, even though there was nothing left.
If you ever have the desire to see Knockemstiff, Ohio, don’t bother, just go out in the country, find a vacant, dilapidated house trailer in a field, take a photo and claim you were there, because in essence you were.
Next on the agenda for the day was Serpent Mount, one of the most renown earthworks in the world. The Great Serpent Mound is a 1,348-foot, three-foot-high prehistoric effigy mound on a plateau of the ancient Serpent Mound crater in Adams County, Ohio.
The mound is maintained within a park that is administered by the Ohio Historical Society, and is designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Originally thought to be Adena in origin, it is now believed to have been built my the members of the Fort Ancient culture around 1070. Further research points to the potential of it being built even earlier, around 310 BC. It is the largest serpent effigy mound in the world.
The park is well maintained, with a visitor’s center/museum and picnic grounds. The museum gives a nice overview of what scientists believe it was used for, and how it was built, along with its relationship to the sun and moon. The observation tower gave us an excellent overview of the mound, while the trails around it let you see it up close.
Once we had finished our discovery of Serpent Mound, we continued south into the small town of Ripley on the Ohio River. Upon our arrival in Ripley we went on the hunt for something to eat. We parked on Front Street, along the river, and noticed a number of people going into Rockin’ Robins Soda Shop, so we followed. It turned out to be another of the 1950s style places that focused primarily on ice cream, but served food as well. It was amazing that we were only 100 miles south of Columbus and the accents sounded as though we had gone 500 miles south. After the standard fare of hamburgers and fries we continued on our way.
Ripley was founded in 1812, and given it’s location on the Ohio River across from Kentucky became a destination for slaves escaping from slavery. Both black and white residents developed a network, making Ripley and early stop on the Underground Railroad.
One of the more famous abolitionists who lived in Ripley was John Rankin, who built a house on Liberty Hill overlooking the town, river and Kentucky shore. From there they would signal escaping slaves with a lantern on a flagpole and provide them shelter once across. It was here that Margaret Garner, a slave who had escaped to Ripley in 1838, inspired the character in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The house still exists high on the hill overlooking the Ohio River, with it’s famous ‘steps to Freedom’
Just downriver from Ripley is the crossroads town. Utopia was one of a handful of “phalanxes” established in America in the mid-19th century, social communes a century ahead of their time. All of them failed but none as spectacularly as this one.
The community was founded in 1844. Its original inhabitants were followers of French philosopher Charles Fourier, who believed that all work and profits should be shared equally. Its residents built a 30-room communal brick house and many private dwellings. But they left two years later because they weren’t making enough money to survive and, frankly, didn’t get along with each other.
Ohio erected a historical marker, designating this “Utopia,” in 2003. There’s an underground church across the street where the Wattles people would practice their rituals. John Wattles’ stone house is visible, supposedly haunted on rainy nights by dripping ghosts, as is the riverbank.
Finding no ghosts, just weeds, a country store and a couple of signs, and a large fence around the pit that apparently leads to the underground church, we continued on our way.
Further downriver we came to another small village, Point Pleasant. In this town is the house that U.S. Grant was born in. The one story cottage was later taken by barge on a tour across the country before being displayed in Columbus at the state fairgrounds. In 1936 it was returned to Point Pleasant in 1936, where it has been restored with period furniture and opened to tours.
The Ohio Historical Society operate the house as a museum. The house and surrounding buildings make up a nice little park, just up from the Ohio River.
Our trip downriver continued with a brief stop in New Richmond, where we wanted to see the Cardboard Boat Race Museum, but it was closed this day. Our visit will have to wait until another day.
Once we arrived in Cincinnati for the second time in less than a week, we jumped on I-275 to run over to Newport. Once in Newport we went to their downtown to check out the World Peace Bell, one of more than twenty Peace Bells around the world. It weighs 66,000 pounds 12 feet wide. From 2000 until 2006, it was the largest swinging bell in the world.
For the first time in the U.S., the bell was rung by swinging on January 1, 2000, at midnight. Struck twelve times, its peal was heard for distances of about 25 miles. At present, the bell is swung on special occasions, as well as daily at five minutes before noon. The time difference in the daily ring is to avoid interference with the nearby courthouse bells, which ring exactly at noon.
The bell tower, the bridge linking the museum and the bell, and most of the other components of the Millennium Monument, were produced at companies local to the Newport, Kentucky, area
Our final brief stop was to check out another Futuro house in Covington. High on a hill, not far from the freeway you can spot this as you cross the bridge from Cincinnati.
We had taken the Ohio River Scenic Highway runs along the north side of the Ohio River, which run nearly the length of it from East Liverpool to Cincinnati, over 400 miles. Much of this road is very industrial from East Liverpool past Steubenville, Marietta, Parkersburg, Huntington & Portsmouth. Once past Portsmouth it interestingly becomes truly a scenic road, with little industry. It isn’t until one nearly comes to Cincinnati does the industry return. This drive from Ripley to Cincinnati was one of the first times I have ever seen the Ohio River have enjoyable scenery for very long.