LOWER SCIOTO VALLEY
The city of Portsmouth occupies a spectacular setting, an understandable site for the elaborate earthworks now best depicted on the floodwall murals along the riverfront. This was also the site of a large Indian settlement at the time of European contact, called Lower Shawnee Town. Evidence from here suggests the continuous Native habitation and cultural practices from antiquity up until contact in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
In Portsmouth, also visit the Southern Ohio Museum, (825 Gallia Street, 740-354-5629, www.somacc.com), with an extensive ancient and historic collections plus changing exhibits and performing arts. The ancient artifacts are presented in a voluminous yet compact display on a mezzanine level. In the adjacent downtown and Boneyfiddle historic districts are many shops and cafés, and along the riverfront don’t miss the exceptional series of murals depicting the history of the town, starting with a beautiful sunrise over the earthworks at the far left.
The earthwork complex here once stretched for miles, across terraces on both sides of the Ohio River. Now only fragments remain. To reach the best preserved sections, in Horseshoe Mounds Park, go north out of downtown about one mile on US 23, then right on Kinney’s Lane for ¾ mile, then south on Hutchins Avenue for 2 blocks.
Here in this park, a single, large, horseshoe-shaped earthwork opens to the south and hints at one of the region’s most elaborate complexes. The 1848 drawing shows how, from these two encircled horseshoe-shapes, earthen lines extended in every direction, and even across the Ohio River. About ten miles of wide, walled roadways connected several remarkable features.
The complex extended over onto the Kentucky side, where the Biggs Mound survives today, ringed by its moat. Another mound, surrounded by multiple walls, was mapped, but never found by modern archaeologists. This is the most dramatic river confluence in the region, where the Ohio is joined by the Scioto from the north, flowing down through the Hopewell heartland. At this major crossroads, settlement seems to have been continuous: Early European traders found a thriving Shawnee Indian town here.