Location: Macon, Georgia
Webpage: National Park
General Description: The Ocmulgee National Monument preserves the remains of over 10,000 years of North American culture including major mounds constructed 1000 years ago by the South Appalachian Mississippian culture. This 700 acre monument is located on the east bank of the Ocmulgee River and contains evidence of 17,000 years of continuous human habitation. The Mississippian culture arrived on the site around 900 CE displacing the woodlands culture, which co-existed for many years in the area. Between 900 and 1100 CE, the Mississippians brought a complex way of life to the region of farming and a tradition of building massive flat top mounds. The mounds were built in stages and the site contains a massive Great Temple Mound, Lesser Temple Mound, Cornfield Mound, Funeral Mound, and Village Site. Around 1100 CE, the Mississippian culture declined for unknown reasons. After the waning of the Mississippians, a new culture, called Lamar, eventually arose around 1350. This site is also part of the National Monument with two temple mounds, one with a unique spiral ramp, and palisaded town. It was this town that was encountered by Hernando de Soto in 1540. By 1690, the Lamar culture had collapsed, probably due to diseases brought by the Spaniards, to be replaced by a Creek Indian town that took advantage of commerce with the British leading to a trading post on the site. By 1715 the village was abandoned during the Yamassee war. In 1774, the naturalist William Bartram described “wonderful remains of the power and grandeur of the ancients in this part of America.” In 1806, President Jefferson ordered Fort Benjamin Hawkins to be built overlooking the mounds to regulate trading with the Creek Nation and protect the new settlers in east Georgia. In the 1830s railroad construction destroyed over half of the Lesser Temple Mound, the railroad bed being used today as the park road providing access to the Great Temple and Funeral Mound. During the Civil War the site was the location of two battles. In July of 1864, as part of General Sherman’s sacking of Atlanta, General Stoneman was sent to Macon to destroy the railroad and free the Union officers at Camp Ogelthorpe. After destroying the railroad tracks, General Stoneman attempted to capture Macon, but was repelled by the Confederates. The Union column was cornered the next day north of Macon at the Battle of Sunshine Church and General Stoneman was captured, becoming the highest ranking Union officer captured. By November, the Confederate forces had reinforced the defensive works protecting the railroad tracks leading into Macon including earthworks at old Fort Hawkins and positions amongst the Indian mounds. In November, 1864 the repulsed another attack on Macon by the Union armies during their feint at Macon as General Sherman made his move east. Further damage was done to the mounds when in the 1870s, the railroad was straightened out with a new cut that destroyed 75% of the Temple Mound. This railroad is still heavily used today. From 1933-1941, Ocmulgee was the location of the largest archeological excavations ever undertaken led by the WPA. Over this period they discovered over a million artifacts and a number of earthlodges. They have reconstructed one of these earthlodges to provide visitors a unique opportunity.
1) The Visitor Center is itself on the National Registers of Historic Buildings being completed after WWII. It is built to resemble the pottery designs of the Lamar culture. It contains an excellent museum about the history and early North American culture. The movie is also well worth seeing to provide a complete history of the site from early history to establishment of the National Monument.
2) The reconstructed Earthlodge is amazing. During the 1930s the uncovered the remains of this earthlodge which has multiple seats around the perimeter for the Indian leaders to sit, a fire pit in the center, and across from the entry a platform in the shape of an eagle for the chief. The earthlodge is situated in such a way that the rising sun will shine into and light up the platform and chief at both of the equinoxes. To protect the earthlodge they have covered it with a concrete roof and visitors enter on a wooden walkway over the clay surface and can view the floor of the earthlodge from behind a plastic screen.
3) The Great Temple Mound is truly impressive. It is over 50 feet above ground and nearly 2 acres in size at the top. A wooden stairway provides access to the top where you can get good views of the surrounding countryside and the close skyline of Macon.
4) There is not much to be seen of the Lesser Temple Mound or Funeral Mound, especially since they were nearly destroyed by the cuts for the railroad. We can attest that the railroad is still heavily used since we saw 4 trains pass through during the 4 hours we were there.
5) The Opelofa and Burtram Trails are a great way to return to the Visitor Center from the Great Temple Mound. The trails wind through the woods and wetlands surrounding the mounds and give you a good view of the brick tunnel built under the railroad to provide Dunlap access to his southern fields after the railroad was built. It was designed to be wide enough for a wagon and proved a tight fit for our pickup truck.
6) A short hike north of the Visitor Center brings you to what remains of Dunlap Mound and the Civil War breastworks. The breastworks are in surprisingly good condition.