A Visit to the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park in Macon, GA

In Georgia, you almost can’t throw a rock without hitting a Civil War related monument or historic site and in coastal Georgia you can find some colonial and American Revolution era historic sites, but Georgia also has some Native American/Indigenous Culture historic sites. During my recent Macon and Warner Robins road trip, I visited one of them: the Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park in Macon. The Park is the site of a Mississippian Culture complex built between 900-1100. Although the site has been occupied in some form for 17,000 years, the earth lodge, mounds, and features in the park date to to the Mississippian period. Additionally, the Park has marked out where a 1600s European trading post was and signs indicate where a Civil War battle took place on the property. The Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park was established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 and it was constructed by CCC and WPA crews; hence the Art Deco style Visitors Center (you’d almost think you were on a Poirot set!). The Park is also home to a network of walking and hiking trails that lead to the historic features and wind their way through and around the property.

The Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park Art Deco style Visitors Center

The first historic feature you come to along the trail leading from the visitors center is the Earth Lodge. The earth lodge consists of an original 1000 year old floor with the rest of the structure a reconstruction. It’s believed that the Earth Lodge was a ceremonial temple or a meeting house for political and/or religious leaders. The original clay floor features a fire pit, a raised platform in the shape of a bird, and seating for 47 around the edge of the circular floor. It really is amazing to go in and view something that was used 1,000 or more years ago. The photos in the slide show below show the Earth Lodge as you approach it on the trail, the entrance to the lodge (it’s very narrow and low), and the interior of the lodge (you can see the shape of a bird’s head as part of the raised platform).

After you leave the Earth Lodge, the trail leads past the site of the 1690s trading post (used by British traders from Charleston, SC to do business with the then Muscogee (Creek) residents of the site) to the Park’s most impressive site – the Great and Lesser Temple Mounds. The Great Temple mound is 55 feet tall; the Lesser Temple mound was once similarly shaped (railroad construction cut through it in the 1830s) but considerably smaller. Both mounds would have had wooden structures on top of them for ceremonial purposes and/or residences for elites. The first five photos in the slide show below show the Temple Mounds from various places in the Park. In the foreground of the first photos, the timbers mark the layout of the 1690s trading post. The sixth photos is a view of the Lesser Temple Mound from atop the Great Temple Mound. The final two photos show a view of the Park and the Macon skyline from atop the Great Temple Mound.

Other historic features include a funeral mound, some trenches, and the Dunlap House. The first two photos in the slide show below show the funeral mound, a burial place for Mississippian elites; it’s not too far from the Greater and Lesser Temple Mounds and can be seen from the top of the Great Temple Mound. The third photo is of one of several trenches in the Park; the trenches arc around the east side of where the Mississippian village was and it is believed that the trenches may have served as the source for fill dirt used in mound construction. The final two photos show the Dunlap House, part of a cotton plantation that was once on the site. Two Civil War battles took place on the Park property: The Battle of Dunlap Hill, part of Stoneman’s Raid on 30 July 1864 and the Battle of Walnut Creek on 21/21 November 1864 during Sherman’s March to the Sea. Dunlap House was occupied for a time by Union troops around the time of the Battle of Dunlap Hill.

Visiting Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Park has encouraged me to visit other Native American/Indigenous historic sites in Georgia, so I’ll be planning some road trips to visit them in the not too distant future.

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