Toephner Mound

Indian Burial Grounds

Map of Indian mound locations in Franklin County, from Archaeological Atlas of Ohio, by William C. Mills (1914) The following three accounts describe an Adena Indian mound, called the Anderson Mound (also called the Pope Mound, and later the Toepfner Mound) located near Grandview Heights. The first account is from Indian Artifact Magazine; the second is a newspaper article from the Tri-Village News describing a presentation by archaeologist Donald Gehlbach at the Grandview Heights/Marble Cliff Historical Society annual meeting in 1998; the last is from an article fron Gehlbach published in the Ohio Archaeological Society publication in 1997 about the Mound, located near the intersection of Grandview Avenue and Dublin Road. Mr. Gehlbach's article references a second mound near the Grandview Heights Fire Department facility on Grandview Avenue. A short article by Board member Tom DeMaria was written about this second mound, which he referred to as the "Herschler Mound", in the Spring 2005 Viewpoints newsletter.




The Saga of the Toephner Mound
from Indian Artifact Magazine (Jul/Aug/Sep 1997)
also spelled 'Toepfner'

Picture a young man, age 11, traveling in his parents car down the main route to downtown Columbus, Ohio, to go to church on a Sunday morning. He doesn't really "like" church in this stage of his growing up years, but would rather be with his friends 'exploring', a common activity in 1951, before many of today's distractions such as computer video games and daytime TV were introduced. 'Exploring' meant roaming the landscape including fields and farm lands, after assigned chores were completed, and building things from found scrap materials and....finding arrowheads, randomly displayed on recently tilled land.

Back to the drive down the highway to church. Along the highway about half way into town was an enormous Indian mound (it always seemed so much larger than it really was) on the right side of the road, about 300 yards form the Scioto River. My parents indicated this was a large burial mound for ancient Indians, but nobody really cared much about it anymore, thus the briers, weeds, stands of bushes and small trees covering its surface and almost obscuring it during the foliage season.

For a young man of 11, his imagination went wild every time we went by that mound. He often thought about who was living at the mound and what it concealed. This was especially important day dreaming in light of the expected "humdrum" experience predicted at the end of the inward Sunday journey. This became My Mound over the years, and led to the creation of a durable interest in archeology, now closing in on 50 years. Not until I visited the Ohio Archeological and Historical Society museum, the official state museum located on 15th Avenue at the edge of Ohio State's campus in Columbus, did I realize the significance of this early Adena mound.

My interest was heightened, especially when I found out that the mound in question, the so called Toephner Mound, was almost 20 feet tall and had never been excavated. Some of the early Woodland-type artifacts that typically are found in this type of edifice were attractively displayed in the "Ohio State Museum" (as it was known) and I was really curious about whether the same kinds of artifacts were deposited in the mound. This is what is commonly called a spiritual beginning in avocational archeology. Little did I know at the time that the story of the Toephner Mound would become much more involved concerning its eventual fate.

Enter the world of attempted historic preservation and the accompanying gymnastics practiced on the winding trail of dialogue which often accompanies well intentioned attempts to protect our prehistoric past. But to an admirer in his ignorant period, c. 1951, nothing this complicated was contemplated. The fact was that I looked forward with anticipation each Sunday morning to seeing My Mound, which always seemed to have a new story to tell as we proceeded on our way to downtown Columbus.

The Anderson Mound as it looked on the Pope Farm in 1892

The active period for the mound began sometime around 400 BC when the prehistoric Adena people constructed at least part of a ceremonial burial mound 1.5 miles above the junction of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers near what is now Columbus. This was one of several like structures at this point along the Scioto. Through the historic period the mound was known as first the Anderson Mound, then the Pope Mound (named after the family who owned the site for 50 years), and finally the Toephner Mound, named for the local car dealer Joseph J. Toephner, who in 1946 purchased the property where the mound was situated.

Toephner bought the properly, amounting to 3.5 acres, from Clara Pope, widow of W.C. Pope, and immediately announced his plan to erect a truck maintenance facility once the mound was eliminated. As a side note, the Pope's had preserved the mound throughout their ownership, even building a Pergola on its top, where they often sat in the cool summer evenings. Family members enjoyed the 20 foot mound for years and Mr. Pope kept the mound and surrounding area landscaped throughout his ownership.

Now the plot thickens. On March 22, 1946, an area resident, Margaret Rollins, called Edward Thomas, Curator of Natural History of the Ohio Archeological and Historical Society, to report that preparations were underway to bulldoze the "Pope" mound located in a lot at Dublin and Ridge streets. The "For Sale" sign was still present and the bulldozer was essentially clearing the site. Mrs. Pope, at the time a widow, was living with a daughter in California. Officials of the museum quickly arranged a meeting with Mrs. Rollins and advised here to write to Mrs. Pope in California, to request that Mr. Toephner delay the mound destruction process until a salvage excavation could be conducted by the Ohio State Museum.

Mr. Toephner contacted the museum to see if they wanted to dig the mound. Finally, in March 1948, an agreement was reached to provide the museum with salvage excavation rights although no money was available. On September 10, 1948, Mr. Toephner again contacted the museum officials to encourage them to initiate their salvage dig even though he had no imminent building plans for the site. Then on February 9, 1949, an irate citizen called the museum indicating that a bulldozer was present at the base of the mound and leveling operations were about to begin.

After much pressure was exerted by a number of local area citizens and groups, Mr. Peety, the bull dozer operator, was ordered by Mr. Toephner to discontinue his leveling activity. A history of stalemates with potentially dangerous consequences was fast developing.

In Ohio State Museum circles discussions continued through 1949 about potentially purchasing the Toephner Mound and turning the area into a state or county park. In fact, during the 1930s former museum director, Harry Shetrone, had tried to start a campaign to buy what was then called the Pope Mound and turn it and the surrounding land into a park. Nothing developed from this earlier attempt and in 1949 Mr. Toephner would not sell the properly to the museum.

Fortunately, no further efforts were made to level the mound without an archeological excavation, until 1953, and no further use of the property was planned until then. As a result of Mr. Toephner's need to level the mound by early 1954, emergency funding was finally obtained for a salvage excavation. Officials of the museum subsequently met with Mr. Toephner to jointly plan for removal of the mound, beginning October 23, 1953.

Contracts were drawn up with Igel Construction Company to strip down all but the lowest 4' by 25' portion, and work began. During my Sunday trips past the mound I anxiously viewed the mound being destroyed and anticipated any public reports on what was being found. As the bulldozers completed the initial tear-down work under close supervision of the museum staff, under the direction of Dr. Raymond Baby, features and artifacts were noted/recorded to the extent possible.

Dr. Baby's theory was that if this was a typical Adena mound, most of the features and artifacts were mostly likely at or below the base line. The project team decided to complete the most significant part of their research through the winter of 1953-54 by erecting a wooden shack over the remaining portion of the mound. Mr. Toephner and the museum staff had set an April 30, 1954 termination date for the project. Excavated dirt was to be spread over the south side of the property to level the slope bordering the Scioto River. It was also agreed the finished mound area would be graded. The excavation was completed on May 12, 1954 with the removal of the excavation shed. There were several published newspaper accounts of the results of the excavation and I readily digested this information. My Mound was gone but since that date I never hesitate in looking at the site when I pass by and contemplate about what might have been.

A brief review of the contents of the mound was published in Archeology of Eastern North America in 1985 by Rae Ann Norris*, and in the early 1980s I obtained a set of slides taken during the dig by Dr. Stanly Copeland, a well known avocational archeologist.

Several months ago I decided to renew my interest in gathering more information about the history of the Toephner Mound. I contacted Martha Otto, Curator of Archeology of The Ohio Historical Society. Her assistance and support facilitated the writing of this article and her help is appreciated. In addition to multiple inhumations, typical of Adena grave sites, a sample of significant individual and community artifacts recovered during the approximate six month excavation are as follows:

Four rectangular sandstone and banded slate gorgets.

Two expanded center banded slate gorgets.

Two Adena tubular pipes, one a very unusual example somewhat resembling the later Hopewell platform pipes, having an upright bowl and curved stem entering the bowl at a right angle. This pottery example represents a substantial design enhancement in relation to the diagnostic straight tubular form and the modified tubular type found in several Adena sites along the Scioto River, south of Columbus. This unique pipe is currently on display at the Ohio Historical Society museum. The second example is the more typical straight tubular form crafted from Ohio pipestone. It is very fragmentary, with only a small portion remaining.

This discourse, obviously does not represent either a scientific treatise or a through excavation report, but instead is a summary of the fate of an Adena mound, which has disappeared from our landscape. Today’s post WWII generation probably are unaware that it once stood just 30 yards from what is now called Riverside Drive along State Route 33, very close to the center of Columbus. What a special piece of our preserved heritage it could have been. We as responsible citizens need to do everything possible to protect the remnant landscapes created by our earliest neighbors, otherwise this part of our history will never be remembered or appreciated.

* Norris, R.. (1985). EXCAVATION OF THE TOEPFNER MOUND. Archaeology of Eastern North America, 13, 128–137. Retrieved from



Toepfner mound still part of local history

September 23, 1998
Roger Drake, Tri-Village News Reporter

The Grandview Heights-Marble Cliff Historical Society learned a little more about prehistoric times in Grandview Heights Tuesday at its annual meeting featuring guest speaker and archaeologist Donald Gehlbach. Gehlbach is a member of the Ohio Archaeological Society and has published over 100 articles on the subject. He has also written two books: The Archaeology of Franklin County and Ohio Prehistoric Pipes.

Gehlbach's presentation featured slides and discussion of Indian mounds in Franklin County focusing on the Toepfner mound, located at the corner of Riverside Drive and Grandview Avenue and its excavation in 1953. The Toepfner mound was built by the Adena Indians in prehistoric times. It stood about 30 feet high and 165 feet in diameter. [See photograph above] While the Hopewell Indians are the most well-known mound builders in Ohio, the Adena Indians built many mounds, some of which still exist today, Gehlbach said. Gehlbach gave a brief history of the Toepfner mound, citing records dating back to 1860.

In 1860 W. A. Anderson owned a farmstead where the mound was and preserved it as part of the landscape. In 1888 Anderson sold the land to W. A. Pope. "Pope was a preservationist of his time," Gehlbach said. "Pope cleared the underbrush from the mound, put a layer of stone at the base to prevent erosion and put a layer of sod on the mound every year." In the 1930s Pope died and his widow moved to San Francisco with their daughter. Grandview was beginning to develop, and the land was no longer a farmstead, Gehlbach said. The Pope family decided to sell. The Ohio Historical Society was interested in purchasing the property, but couldn't afford it, he said.

In 1946 Joseph Toepfner bought the land. He owned a Studebaker dealership on North High Street. Business was booming and he wanted to expand his dealership, Gehlbach said. He thought the property at the corner of Grandview Avenue and Riverside Drive would provide plenty of visibility, Gehlbach said.

Toepfner's business eventually went sour. He decided not to expand, but still wanted to develop the land. He hired a company to bulldoze the mound. "But every time Toepfner tried to bulldoze the mound Grandview Heights' citizens would stop him. They called the Ohio Historical Society and the newspapers," Gehlbach said. The struggle went on for seven years. In 1953, Toepfner needed the property for commercial development and finally gave in. He decided to let the Ohio Historical Society excavate the mound. He gave them only 90 days, which was only enough time for a "salvage excavation," Gehlbach said.

Dr. Ray Baby and his assistant, Bob Goslin, were in charge of the excavation. Because of the time constraint they decided to bulldoze the top 18 feet and focus on the bottom 4 feet, Gehlbach said. However, the Toepfner mound was different than other Adena mounds. There were burials throughout the mound, not just in the bottom, Gehlbach said. They found 85 graves buried over a time period of 600 years. They also found many artifacts including spearheads, clothing and a one-of-a-kind pipe, Gehlbach said. Gehlbach said the Ohio Historical Society has possession of the artifacts, and many are on display.

[See a still existing mound near Trabue and McKinley, the Shrum Mound]


VOLUME 47, NO. 2 - SPRING 1997
Published by

D.R. Gehlbach

One of the most unfortunate chapters in archaeology is the disappearance of well-known archaeological sites in our own area. Such was the fate of the Toepfner Mound, an outstanding example of Adena mound construction dated at around 2,400 years ago. Because of the sale of the property where the mound was situated for the construction of a truck terminal, a significant monument of the Adena culture was leveled early in 1954.

This is not the report of an excavation project, however, but is the partial history of the Toepfner mound before 1954 when it was a local landmark in the late 1800s.

On February 2, 1888, Prosper M. Wetmore of Columbus sent a letter to G. F. Wright, Editor of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, listing the known archaeological sites in Franklin County, Ohio. On page six he mentions a large mound on the farm of J. R. Anderson two miles northwest of Columbus on the north bank of the Scioto River. It is described as being two hundred feet in diameter at the base and thirty feet high. Two years later, the Anderson mound had become the W. A. Pope mound and was called by its new owner the most beautiful and best preserved mound in Franklin County. It was recorded by James Linn Rodgers, 1892 author of Ancient Earthworks in Franklin County, as commanding such a favorable location that from its summit the whole southward sweep of valley bottom lands could be seen.

For some reason it was described at this time as only twenty one feet high. Rodgers further indicated that local tradition had assigned to this mound the purpose of marking the head of the valley and as serving as a station in one of a chain of important signal mounds. It was noted by Rodgers that Mr. Pope jealously guarded it and kept it in a nearly perfect state of preservation "as the lapse of time and fret of the elements will permit." In taking pride in its condition, Mr. Pope "encourages nature in covering its surface every season with a beautiful sod protecting it at all costs from injury." Such protection was unusual in 1890 in light of the then popular exploration of Indian mounds.

Mr. Pope was apparently an avid amateur archaeologist and described features uncovered during a tree planting at the mound including several large stones which were set at right angles from the slope. Adjacent to this "curbing" he found a mass of hard clay. At another time while digging a hole for a flagpole on its summit, he noticed clearly defined stratification and at a depth of three feet he found clay containing charred wood. The curbing, he assumed, indicated the mound had a continuous base protection of stones and that the burned area was part of a sacrificial altar "so common to these works." Mr. Pope felt the mound was of great antiquity since several years earlier he dug from it stumps of walnut trees three feet in diameter.

Mr. Pope also investigated a mound a short distance away on the second terrace of the Scioto (near the current location of the Grandview Heights Fire Station). The mound was ten feet high and sixty five feet in diameter and contained five burials "all placed in a sitting posture."

The Toepfner mound received its name from its final owner who bought the property for an automobile dealership which never materialized. It was excavated by Raymond S. Baby of the Ohio Historical Society in the winter of 1953-54. No report on its excavation was written. He discovered 85 burials and typical Adena artifacts including two-hole gorgets drilled from one side in the classic Adena style. The total of four gorgets included two of sandstone and two of banded slate - one a bow-tie type and the other three rectangular. Two expanded center gorgets were also found - one partially drilled of slate and the other an undrilled example of limestone. Two pipes were excavated - one a classic pipestone tube and the other a rare style which had an acutely curved stem end. Several granite celts were also excavated as were classic flint artifacts including Adena blades and finished points of Flint Ridge flint and Coshocton flint associated with the late phases of the mound. Also present were copper beads, worked shell, bone tools and numerous potsherds. The final inventory included two cones, one of limestone and one of galena.

Unfortunately, all vestiges of the Toepfner mound are gone. As a young man, I can clearly remember this mound located only two miles from our family residence. My recollection includes the excavation by Raymond Baby and the curiosity about its contents and the people who built it. It was my introduction to archaeology and it stimulated a lifelong interest in archaeological research and the documentation of this and other fascinating aspects of Ohio prehistory.