Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park

You can see the “wall” to the left of the trail.

The Old Stone Fort is a 2000 year-old American Indian ceremonial site. It consists of mounds and walls that combine with cliffs and rivers to form an enclosure measuring 1-1/4 miles around. The 50-acre hilltop enclosure mound site is believed to have served as a central ceremonial gathering place for some 500 years. It has been identified as, perhaps, the most spectacularly sited sacred area of its period in the United States and the largest and most complex hilltop enclosure in the south. Settlers tended to name such enclosures “forts.” 

Turkey Tail Fungus found along the trail.

 The spectacular setting occurs where two rivers drop off the plateau of the Highland Rim in Middle Tennessee and plunge to the level of the Central Basin of Tennessee. As the forks of the Duck River cut down from the plateau level they isolate a promontory between them before they join. This promontory was further set apart by the construction of long, wall-like mounds during the Woodland prehistoric period. 

Blue Hole Falls.

 At the narrow neck of land between the two rivers there is a set of parallel mound walls oriented to within one degree of the summer solstice sunrise. It was typical of ancient societies to recognize this significant farthest north sunrise and to hold reenactments of creation myths at such times. Mound sites such as the 50-acre Old Stone Fort provided modified landscapes for ceremonies that may have represented in some way the culture’s concept of their place in the cosmos and a separation of the sacred and mundane or pure and impure. 

Big Falls, one of the many falls.

It’s old and its walls are made of stone underneath the layer of earth that covers them. But it isn’t an actual fort and never has been. The Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park was a ceremonial gathering place for Native Americans a long time ago. When Tennessee’s white settlers found it, they noticed the walls arranged in a triangular shape, wrongfully assumed it was a fort, and gave it the name “Old Stone Fort.”

Remains of an old paper mill.

At first glance, Old Stone Fort is nothing more than a long wall surrounding a big field. But this stoned enclosure, in Manchester, is one of the most interesting places in Tennessee. The structure Native Americans built here has always been surrounded with mystery (people used to think it was haunted). In addition to the stone enclosure, the remains of a stagecoach road and several paper mills are here. And, on top of everything else, there is incredible scenery, with two rivers, cliffs, and several waterfalls.

Big Falls.

Old Stone Fort is located where two rivers — the Big Duck and Little Duck — nearly meet, but then they spread apart, descend for a while and merge. So the walls of Old Stone Fort are surrounded on all sides by either one of the rivers or by cliffs.

Step Falls

By the way, of the six physical regions of Tennessee, two of those six regions are the Highland Rim and the Central Basin. The cliffs that you see at Old Stone Fort are a small part of the boundary between the Central Basin in middle Tennessee and the Highland Rim surrounding it.

Native Americans used this place continuously for about 500 years, which is remarkable (after all, the United States is only 230 years old). But eventually the place was abandoned. By the time white settlers arrived, no one who lived in this area was sure why the enclosure had been built or what it had been used for. So what we know about Old Stone Fort is because of what archeologists have found here, and what they haven’t found here.

Judy and George, the photographers.
Happy Trails!

One thought on “Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park

  1. Oh such a beautiful place that our Heavenly Father gave to Tennessee for us to enjoy. Those photos are quite beautiful. I've never heard of Turkey Tail Fungus, it was strangely pretty. Thanks for sharing. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.


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