Watershed Facts / Historic Mound Bottom on the Harpeth

Picture of Mound Bottom - Harpeth River State Park
Photo by Kevin Burgart

The Mound Bottom Archaeological Site, comprising 101 acres was purchased by the State of Tennessee in 1973. It is a prehistoric civic/ceremonial center where native people lived in the Mississippian era from around ca. 900 to 1600 A.D. These people chose this land because of its natural barriers, scenic beauty and proximity to water, wildlife, and fertile bottomland for growing maize. According to the National Park Service, the Harpeth River, on which this property has two long sections of frontage, is remarkable for its scenic vistas, recreation, geology, fish, wildlife, and historical and cultural values.

The Mound Bottom site became a part of the Harpeth River State Park in 2005 and contains 12 mounds.  The largest and most visible mound at the site, standing stately at 47 x 47 x 25 feet high, is called a platform mound or temple mound. It overlooks 11 smaller mounds that form a circle facing what used to be a center of trade and social life. The chief, or shaman, reigned from atop this mound, where he lived with his family and directed important rites and ceremonies.

For 35 years, the State did not have road access to the Mound Bottom site. In 2008, 65.15 acres adjacent to the site became available and was actively being marketed for sale. Although this tract was the number one priority for land acquisition to the Harpeth River State Park and Narrows Historic Area, the State did not have any funding available. Acquisition of this site would finally enable the State to have road access to the spectacular archeological site. The Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation was able to step in and act quickly and borrow the money to temporarily secure this tract for the State. The State has approved and committed funds towards this purchase, thanks to the efforts of Governor Phil Bredesen, TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke, and Assistant Commissioner Mike Carlton.  Mound Bottom was officially transferred to the State of Tennessee June 11, 2009.

MORE ABOUT HOW THIS SITE WAS PRESERVED

Case for Conservation

Summary: Scenic Harpeth River bluffs, prehistoric burial grounds, and the gateway to a dramatic 1,000 year old temple mound are all at risk. The Mound Bottom Archaeological Site, containing 12 mounds, is one of ten significant sites that make up the Harpeth River State Park. Mound Bottom is a prehistoric civic/ceremonial center where native people lived in the Mississippian era from around ca. 900 to 1600 A.D.

These people chose this land because of its natural barriers, scenic beauty and proximity to water, wildlife, and fertile bottomland for growing maize. According to the National Park Service, the Harpeth River, on which this property has two long sections of frontage, is outstandingly remarkable for its scenic vistas, recreation, geology, fish, wildlife, and historical and cultural values. Much more can be learned about these ancient people, but we may never solve the mystery of why they suddenly left their towns and began to disappear and disperse if we are not able to protect this land.

Location: The property is located due west of Nashville in Cheatham County between one of the horseshoe bends of the Harpeth River. The property lies adjacent to over 100 acres at Mound Bottom and within less than one mile of over 19,000 protected acres at Narrows of the Harpeth and Cheatham Wildlife Management Area. The specific location lies one mile north of Highway 70 off of Cedar Hill Road and is approximately 25-minutes from downtown Nashville.

Setting: The topography is a mix of rolling pastureland in the west and changes to steep wooded ridges moving east that form the actual gateway looking down onto the mound. As one steps out of this “narrow” from the woods, the view is of a beautiful green valley surrounded by impressive limestone bluffs, including Paint Rock adorned with petroglyphs, and a truly spectacular view of the temple mounds. There are 3 spring fed ponds, 2 residential structures and a shed located in the southwest corner of the property near the entrance. It is approximately 35% timberland and 65% pasture. It is THE ONLY LAND ACCESS and is adjacent to the 101-acre Mound Bottom Site that is already protected.

Summary:

To preserve the prehistoric burial grounds and artifacts: The Taylor family, who owned the land from 1919 to 1957, did allow for an excavation by the Smithsonian Institute and a few state archaeologists, but in 1940 they decided to go back to a strict adherence of no disturbance. Stone grave boxes, copper hair and body ornaments, ceramic vessels infused with crushed river mussel shells are but a few examples of some of the artifacts now housed at the McClung Museum at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. But there is still much to be learned and threat of development could forever remove this opportunity.

To preserve the natural beauty and wildlife habitats: Undisturbed for decades, this land provides food and shelter to a variety of wildlife, native plants and some mature timber. The spring fed ponds serve as a precious resource. The topographical quadrangle (Lillamay) and watershed where this property lies contain habitat for 29 rare plants and 16 rare animals. As a stand-alone property, its panoramic views and limestone bluffs make it an exceptional park.

To forever preserve and secure the “gateway” to this spectacular Temple Mound: This largest and most visible mound, which stands stately at 47 x 47 x 25 feet high, is called a platform mound, and overlooks 11 smaller mounds that form a circle facing what use to be a center of trade and social life. The chief, or shaman, reigned from atop this mound, where he lived with his family and directed important rites and ceremonies. The “narrow” provides a beautiful panoramic view of the plaza, and the natural fortifications of the river bend and limestone bluffs. An earthen palisade once existed here, and guards were assigned for protection.

To preserve the integrity of this important archaeological site that contains a fascinating piece of Tennessee history, both know and unknown: This is important in that it will assist in the protection and conservation of a very interesting prehistoric culture that will be there for study and education for generations of Tennesseans to come.