On I-71 in southwest Ohio’s Warren County, there’s a spot where the road crosses a bridge high above the Little Miami River and a spectacular vista unfolds in all directions. On a wooded hilltop to the east, overlooking the bridge and valley, is one of Ohio’s largest and most intriguing ancient earthworks: Fort Ancient.
Was It Really a Fort?
While late 18th- and early 19th-century Ohioans who encountered three-and-a-half miles of earthen walls on a high bluff concluded that it was surely the remains of an ancient fort (and therefore named it Fort Ancient), that seems unlikely. The more than 60 gaps or ‘gateways’ in the earthen walls would have made the ‘fort’ hard to defend. Scientists are still studying Fort Ancient, but today most think that it may have been a ceremonial center.
Fort Ancient lent its name to the native people of the same name — the Fort Ancient culture — and it was long believed to have been built by them, though research from the 1930s has determined that it was actually built by people of the earlier Hopewell culture between about 100 B.C. and 500 A.D., then abandoned by them and occupied centuries later by people of the Fort Ancient culture, who date from about 1000 A.D. to 1650 A.D.
Learn in the Museum
Because the site is so large and much of it is wooded, to best understand what you’ll see at Fort Ancient, your first stop should be the museum at the entrance to the site. There you can learn about the daily lives of the people of Ohio’s Hopewell and Fort Ancient cultures, how Fort Ancient was built and used and how the arrival of French and English explorers in the 18th century, and American settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries, changed the lives of Ohio’s native people.
Touch-screens created by the University of Cincinnati’s Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites, or CERHAS, feature interactive video that will help you envision what Fort Ancient looks like in a way that can be harder to see on the ground because the site is vast and lush vegetation covers much of it.
Explore on Foot
After visiting the museum, explore Fort Ancient on foot. Marked trails through woods and meadows offer a look at the miles of embankments and lead to other ancient features. Scenic overlooks afford views of the Little Miami River valley.
Wooded hillsides and fall foliage make autumn an especially beautiful time to visit Fort Ancient. From December through March, when Fort Ancient is open weekends-only, the winter landscape minus foliage offers a chance to see the earthworks even better.
Bring a Picnic
You’ll find plenty of outdoor picnic tables and an ample picnic shelter at Fort Ancient. To learn about reserving picnic facilities for group events, call 800.283.8904.
Near the picnic shelter, an Ohio Historical Marker honors the work of Company 588 of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a group of African American men stationed at Fort Ancient from 1932 to 1935 during the Great Depression who built the shelter and made many other improvements.
Plan Your Visit
Fort Ancient is seven miles southeast of Lebanon in Warren County, at 6123 State Route 350 near Oregonia. Admission is $6, $5/senior (age 60+) or student (ages 6–16) and Free/under age 6. Ohio Historical Society or Dayton Society of Natural History members enjoy free admission. Through November, Fort Ancient is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sunday Noon-5 p.m. Fort Ancient is closed on Mondays and on Thanksgiving Day.
From December through March, Fort Ancient is open weekends-only, Saturdays 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sundays Noon–5 p.m. Fort Ancient is closed Monday through Friday, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Tour Fort Ancient Oct. 19
Saturday, Oct. 19, from 2-4 p.m., enjoy a special guided tour of Fort Ancient with longtime Site Manager Jack Blosser. For details, call 800.283.8904.
Dayton Society of Natural History manages Fort Ancient for the Ohio Historical Society.
Find More History Nearby
On State Route 350 west of Fort Ancient, you’ll pass the stone Cross Keys Tavern, built in 1802 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
About seven miles or 15 minutes west of Fort Ancient is the community of Lebanon, seat of Warren County. Much of downtown Lebanon is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Lebanon Commercial District. At the heart of downtown Lebanon, Ohio’s oldest continually operating hostelry, the Golden Lamb, offers food and overnight accommodations, just a block from the Warren County Historical Society museum.
For more information about visiting Fort Ancient, call 800.283.8904 or visit www.fortancient.org. Learn more about visiting Warren County at www.ohio’slargestplayground.com.