Ohio court to consider stripping country club of lease over Mound Builders site

Aerial view of the Octagon earthworks and the Moundbuilders Country Club. Photo courtesy Einar E Kvaran

A country club in eastern Ohio may lose its home of more than 100 years as part of a legal struggle over how to properly maintain and protect a historic site on its grounds.

On April 8, Licking County Common Pleas Judge David Branstool will consider whether Ohio History Connection should be allowed to cancel the Moundbuilders Country Club lease — which runs through 2078. The nonprofit historical preservation organization is being supported in its efforts by the state of Ohio and the U.S. Department of the Interior, according to the Columbus Dispatch.

At issue is a pre-Columbian site, the Octagon Earthworks. Built by the Hopewell culture between 100 and 500 A.D., the site is the largest earthen enclosure in the world. The state and federal governments are attempting to have the site added to the World Heritage List, and both have said the United Nations will not consider the request if it is still being used as a golf course.

The property was most recently used by the state of Ohio as a militia training center in the late 1800s, and in 1910 the Licking Country Club signed its first lease for the property with the state. (The club changed its name the next year to the current Moundbuilders Country Club.)

The Ohio History Connection, a nonprofit organization that operates historical sites throughout the state, acquired the property from the state in 1933 — assuming a newer lease the Country Club had signed with the state. That lease was most recently extended in 1997 

In November, the Ohio History Connection sued seeking to have the Moundbuilders Country Club lease cancelled in the public interest.

For its part, Moundbuilders Country Club told the judge that the club has practiced solid stewardship of the historic site, maintaining it for more than a century and providing researchers and interested members of the public access upon request.

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