EXPLORING HOCKING HILLS PAST
Hocking Hills is a small (yet massive!) region in southeast Ohio, located in the Appalachian foothills. It is renowned for its natural beauty, with forests, gorges, caves, and rock formations that have been attracting visitors for decades. In the 1920’s, the area was designated as a state park, helping to preserve its natural beauty, but its rich history goes back much, much further.
More than 330 million years ago, the region’s topography was relatively level and covered by ocean water. Over many years, the water slowly receded and a combination of erosion and land movements left the amazing sandstone (called Blackhand Sandstone) carved out the many beautiful walls, pockets, crevices, and caves that litter the area. Amazingly, much of this is believed to have occurred fairly rapidly, approximately 10,000 years ago, as an Ice Age was ending and glaciers began melting above the land. The first peoples in the area, at least those that are known, arrived following that Ice Age, possibly 7,000 years ago. The Adena (the Mound Builders), Delaware, Wyandot, and Shawnee tribes are believed to have been the first inhabitants in the region. For example, Rock House appears to have been used as shelter with additional evidence of turpentine production (there are the remains of two turpentine stills in the wall of Rock House), which could be used for a number of things, including medicines, crafting, and the treatment of injuries.
Non-native settlers began arriving in 1798 (though the legendary hermit believed to have been a trapper inhabiting Old Man’s Cave is believed to have died in the area in 1777) and first selected locations along the rivers and the region was named after the Delaware name for one of the rivers, Hockhocking (meaning “bottle river” for its shape). They found abundant natural resources including many game animals. In the early 19th century, the early settlements expanded and the first powder and grist mills were constructed. Two charcoal iron furnaces were built, and iron extracted from the sandstone was used for farm tools and weapons. Later, coal was discovered, adding to the region’s rich natural resources. Visitors to the area can visit the Hope Iron Furnace located in Lake Hope State Park.
As the population grew, more people began to explore the caves and gorges for recreation, and in 1924 the state purchased a 146-acre piece of land that contained Old Man’s Cave, officially creating a park overseen by the Department of Forestry. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, more land was purchased and roads and paths were constructed, and in 1949 the Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Parks were formed. Additional planting and reforestry work took place during the 1950s by “prisoners from the Hocking Honor Camp.” Inmates “worked on tree planting, cleaning plantations and pruning more established plantations. The prisoners earned five cents per hour for their labor if they had dependents, otherwise they earned half a cent per hour for their hard work.” The current Hocking Hills State Park is made up of six connected areas: Ash Cave, Cantwell Cliffs, Cedar Falls, Conkle’s Hollow, Old Man’s Cave, and Rock House. Finally, in 1972, facilities including cabins and a dining lodge were added, creating the recreational paradise thousands of people enjoy every year.
Visitors interested in diving into other Hocking Hills history might enjoy reading about Grandma Gatewood, an ultra hiking pioneer who helped develop the Buckeye Trail, seeing the Moonville Tunnel, a supposedly haunted portion of the railway system that came to Ohio as its industries developed, or head over to the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park to see the ceremonial earthworks constructed thousands of years ago.