Native Americans are an integral part of Ohio’s history, from the wars that were fought to the culture and tradition absorbed by early settlers to the towns, rivers, lakes and counties that still bear the names of tribes who were once resident here. One of the earliest settlements (1000 to 1600 AD) were the Whittlesey Indians who lived here in Northeast Ohio.
Since I started working at Fathom, I have used the Canal pathway (along the Ohio-Erie Canal) as a place to walk. Last fall, I went a different direction, down the path which runs between the Cuyahoga River and the Canal and eventually ends up near Tinker Creek. Along the Towpath Trail (as it is called) there is an Ohio Historical Marker (80-18), which states:
“Directly across the Cuyahoga River from this spot is the South Park Village. Here, archeologists uncovered the remains of a four-acre, Native American settlement populated by people of the Whittlesey Tradition. The people of South Park lived in communal structures and grew maize, beans, and squash in the floodplain fields that surround you. Food remains found in the village excavations reveal that they hunted deer, elk, black bear, and other game and gathered clams and fish from the Cuyahoga River. South Park was abandoned and reoccupied several times between A.D. 1000 and 1600. Numerous seasonal campsites have been found on the floodplains and terraces on both sides of the river. The first localized cultural development unique to this area, Whittlesey sites have been identified upriver from here in Summit County and in the Chagrin and Grand River valleys to the east. “
This is not the only Whittlesey settlement in Northeast Ohio — it’s just the only one I’ve “seen” personally. Their culture is a Late Prehistoric group. This settlement was typical in that they tended to occupy plateaus overlooking streams (or Lake Erie). Archaeologists also discovered that they often surrounded their settlements with a pallisade or a ditch, implying that they needed to defend themselves — either from other tribes or from wild animals. One of the things that differentiates them from earlier, similar cultures was a distinctive type of pottery they created.
Charles Whittlesey, a 19th century geologist and archaeologist who was a founder of the Western Reserve Historical Society and who was deeply involved in research on these tribes, provided their name.